Indie Oxford Interview: Jonathan Self Photography
This week we catch up with Jonathan from Jonathan Self Photography who tells us all about his life in Oxford, the people and places that inspire him, plus his plans for 2019.
Tell me about yourself and your life in Oxford
My life in Oxford is a world removed from my old life in London with a much slower pace and it’s helped that I am finally comfortable in my own skin and able to really bask in the beauty of this city. It’s extraordinary how stunning Oxford is and how early morning and dusk become such a magical time with an ethereal light that is a photographer’s dream! I also really enjoy the whole “slow living” movement and how so many of my favourite things – pubs, river walks, galleries, cafes, books and music – can be enjoyed in this town. It’s really a beautiful fusion of country and city and does it better than anywhere else I know.
Can you tell us how you became a photographer and where you got your love for photography from?
I was born and brought up in Sheffield, Yorkshire, and worked in book publishing for over ten years. Although I discovered that I had a gift for photography as a teenager, it was only when I started travelling around the world did I really get the photography bug. I spent much of the early noughties travelling around the world, visiting and photographing communities in India, Peru, South Africa and Swaziland. This included spending time on the Ground Zero site in New York, witnessing HIV/AIDS work in Southern Africa, meeting community workers in two slum areas of Peru and paying many visits to orphanage and leprosy projects across India. India really gave me a love of portrait photography and this led to where I am today.
How would you describe your style?
As a portrait photographer, I like to think that my photography is a bit different from the norm and that I am able to capture the essence of everyone I photograph. It’s what drives me in my work, photographing someone’s “truth”, and I am fascinated by the paradox that is in us all –that we are all beautiful and worthy of being photographed and that we are all broken to some extent.
I especially get a lot of work with families and I find that parents often commission me because they love my free, spontaneous style and how I can engage with a child without talking down to them. I do very little posed photography but do a lot of informal, very quick mini-shoots, keenly observant of what is unfolding before my eyes.
What aspect of your job do you find most exciting?
It’s really the interaction with people, hearing someone’s story and being able to somehow weave that into my photoshoot. I meet a lot of new people through my job and it’s always a buzz. Being an extrovert, people are perhaps the only reason I do what I do. I love hearing people’s stories and capturing such stories on film. Brene Brown (one of my heroes!) writes beautifully on the theme of “story”. She once said: “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” I believe photography can act as a liberating force within this process – allowing people to own their biography and be empowered by it.
How to you make people feel at ease in front of the camera?
I alwaystry and keep a photoshoot as light and as quick as possible, ensuring that it remains fun and interesting for everyone concerned and there is a lot of laughter. The more people enjoy the experience, the more they are able to relax, helping me capture the real them.
If you could photograph anything, who/what/where would you love to be able to photograph?
One of my current heroes is a woman called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I would absolutely love to photograph her. She exudes huge passion and talent. As someone who loves the US and especially New York (where Alexandria was born and where I lived for 18 months) and Washington (where she lives now and where I have visited the past two summers), it would be cool to do a shoot in either city.
What advice would you give to any aspiring photographers?
I would say really study the photographers you like the most, work out what it is about their work that you like, perhaps contact them if they are not mega famous and try and get some on the job training with them. One to one mentoring is utterly invaluable and you learn more from being with another photographer, perhaps assisting them on a job, than through any other means.
Tell me about your plans for 2019 – do you have any big projects coming up?
I am hoping to go back to India (my favourite country in the world) and also visit Portland in the US, both for photoshoots. I am also planning on doing a series of photoshoots (16 men, 16 women) for my next photo exhibition in 2020. It’s on a theme particularly close to my heart but which will involve a series of interviews to accompany the photography.
Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?
I have so many but one of my loves is interior design and the greatest paint and interior shop in Oxford is Annie Sloan– the woman is a genius and no can hold a flame to her paint! I also love Gilt and Grain, which is a beautiful old vintage antique store, and Scriptum for the most gorgeous paper and journals found anywhere in the UK. Babylon Trading is great for little bits and bobs around the house and perfect for presents for every age, whilst pubs wise I adore the “magic Iffley trio” as I call it – The Rusty Bicycle, The Chester Arms and The Magdalen Arms (with The Isis only a hop, a skip and a jump away also!).
We’re looking forward to seeing the photographs Jonathan produces while he’s in India and will keep you up to date on his future exhibitions. In the meantime, if you’re in need of a super portrait photographer then get in touch with Jonathan. You can find all the details over on his directory listing.