This month we launched our Public Hoarding Project with Melbourne Photographer Jesse Marlow. Louise Klerks talks with Jesse about his work and what can happen (if you're lucky) on the street.
LK: Jesse, can you talk specifically about a few of the images that appear in the lane way?
JM: The photos I’m showing in the laneway are from an early B+W series of street photos (of Melbourne) that I shot between 1998 – 2004. I’ve always been attracted to this corner of the city and more often then not find myself shooting at Flinders Street Station. I wanted to show some work which I’ve never exhibited before and that directly relates to the Flinders St Station/ Swanston street/Collins street corner of our great city.
Two of the four images are from my Flinders St Station series: the portrait of the young man sitting under the clocks and the woman in the hat waiting for the train. The two older men I photographed sitting out the front of Melbourne Town Hall. And the man carrying the large painting of the face, turned out to be the Melbourne artist Juan Ford carrying home one of his paintings across Flinders Street.
LK: Most of your recent pictures are in colour. Was this a slow transition? Are you moving away from B+W for good? Is ‘for good’ something that you even think about?
JM: I enjoy shooting both colour and B+W. I tend to concentrate on one particular body of work (entirely one or the other) until I feel it’s complete and I need to move on. Usually though for me a body of work can take 5 – 10 years. This happened with my colour series Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them’ which I shot from 2004- 2013. By the time I finished that project my picture taking had ground to a halt, because the type of colour photos I was striving to take were becoming harder to find. I began shooting B+W again in 2013 and am slowly putting together a new body of work.
LK: When I look at your photographs I get a rather nice feeling of the uncanny, of things happening at the right place and time. The uncanny is something of interest to me. It can provide us with a bit of comic relief in our daily lives and rituals. Can you comment on this?
JM: There has been a long tradition of humour in street photography and it’s something I try to incorporate into my work if and when I can.
LK: You carry a camera with you everywhere you go. Do you ever set out on your day thinking: ‘today I’m going to look for cats jumping off buildings’ or is it a completely intuitive process of finding your subject matter?
JM: Apart from my Wounded series (which felt more of a documentary project shot on the streets) I’ve never really set out with any pre-conceived ideas about what I’m looking for. For me, it’s just a case of always carrying my camera and keeping an open mind. I have a style I like to shoot in, and when something does present itself it’s a case of incorporating that style and approach into the scene in front of me.
LK: How hard do you have to look to ‘stumble’ across these scenes in your photographs? And has your process of ‘looking’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘studying’ (or whatever your choice of word is here) changed over the years? If so, in what ways?
JM: I don’t think my overall approach has changed all that much. I’ve always been drawn to shooting people interacting with the urban environment, often in graphic, colourful and humorous situations. It’s a good question because some days things just happen and you are lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Other days and weeks you feel as though you’ll never take another good picture. It’s taken me years to realise that the harder I go out looking for street photos the more I come home empty handed. When I was younger and had more time I would go out into the city for hours and hours. I’d catch a train into the city and always end up back on the steps of Flinders St Station watching the people as they went by.
LK: When something grabs your attention, what do you do when you realise that ‘thing’ is worth capturing? Do you ever interfere with the process by saying “Hey lady, hold that pose!”?
JM: No, I never interfere with the scene. When I’m out shooting on the street I rarely interact with anyone. There have been times over the years where people have asked what I’ve been doing as I’ve shot them walking through the scene, but in general I try to avoid any dialogue with my subjects. I think it’s a case of having strong body language and confidence (which takes time to build up) to feel comfortable shooting on the streets.
LK: What is it about the street that draws you to it? Sounds like a stupid question but I also like the street, I like what happens in the public arena…
For me it’s what I’ve always done. I was given a book about the New York graffiti scene called Subway Art by my uncle when I was 8 years old. This triggered something in me and led to me shooting photos of the early Melbourne graffiti pieces that began appearing in the mid 1980’s. I’ve just always loved being out and about with my camera. When I went to photography school, I wasn’t interested in learning about photoshop or how to use studio lights. All I wanted to do was shoot out on the streets.
LK: Your work often has the ability to reveal multiple perspectives at the same time. For instance: A person looking at one thing, the ‘thing’ looking at the next thing and so forth. It’s like there’s multiple perspectives bouncing off each other, telling each other various things but coming together in the middle, as a final statement… Sort of combusting in a visual experience. It’s nice. Please can you talk about this?
JM: Thanks… I like to shoot photos that raise more questions then answers. Images that don’t completely reveal themselves straight away. For me, this is the essence of street photography.
LK: The Public Hoarding Project has particular challenges. For example: Unusual shaped walls, unwanted cropping of images, and the works being exposed to the elements. Would you consider doing a project like this again?
JM: Having been interested in graffiti since I was a young boy, I’ve always been attracted to public art and the role it plays in the urban fabric of a city.
Since becoming a photographer, I’ve been fascinated by the potential to show my work in public places. In 2008 while living in Italy for a year, I stuck some paste ups of my colour street pics (from my Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them series) around the town I was living in, which was fun. In 2011, I showed some of my OAO (One and Only) photos on the CCP / City of Yarra billboard. Showing some of my older work, which directly relates to this corner of the city where the CHL hoarding space is situated, is a really nice feeling.
Jesse Marlow is represented by M.33, Melbourne. Chapter House Lane would like to thank Jesse for taking part in the Chapter House Lane Public Hoarding Project.
All photos courtesy of Jesse Marlow, 2015. See more on Jesse’s website.