For this edition of FKIN (A)rt Friday, meet New York City photographer Jason Jackson. He’s given us a very generous interview about his work, specifically, his erotic, sensual, and intimate ongoing series, “THE EROTIESE PROJECT.”
On his website https://erotiese.co, Jason describes “THE EROTIESE PROJECT” as “a photographic journey that focuses on capturing the male form in unique and authentic ways that both reinforce and challenge our ideas of masculinity. My intention when shooting the male form has always been to create an emotionally driven narrative. It's not always about looking for a "naked body". My intent is to find that balance between product, process and relationship while simultaneously making the viewer think about the changing societal construct of masculinity."
What made you pick up the camera?
Interestingly enough I hated the camera as a child. My mom was always taking pictures and I found it annoying. It interrupted my play time. As I approached my 20’s and I started to explore more of the world I found that I wanted to capture the things I saw. It never occurred to me to do it professionally or with a broader intent until later. I think the desire to pick up the camera with more specific intent and artistry these last 5 years was a combination of maturity and my understanding of the significance of what I saw in the world and how I interpreted it.
For the purposes of consumer consumption I separate my work into 2 categories. The one that has gained more social media attention is THE EROTIESE PROJECT which focuses on capturing the male form in unique and authentic ways that both reinforce and challenge our ideas of masculinity.
My intention when shooting the male form has always been to create an emotionally driven narrative. It's not always about looking for a "naked body”, but admittedly the nudity is sometimes part of the message.
Your subjects include an admirable variety of men. It’s quite a candy box. How do you find or select your models?
Yes, it’s a smorgasbord. That “model” word has so many negative connotations. Whether it’s a commissioned job or a man I see and intentionally want to include in my projects I see them as subjects more than models. A lot of the men contact me on Instagram or through my website or reach out because of work I have done with someone they personally know.
Looking at just a fistful of your Instagram photos of Scotty Don’t @flyingmonkeycirque, Eli @eliboridomi, Michael Wright @mikestouch, Damian Dragon @damianxdragon and couple Thomas and Jefferson one is struck by the honest masculinity exuded in all the images. You’ve thankfully–and one suspects, very consciously–swerved opposite of the boring gym bro, body worship cliché. Clearly, that approach never appealed to you in the first place I
My selection is somewhat intentional. I am very conscious of making sure that all men are represented. They can be smooth or hairy, bearded or baby-faced. Everyone loves the fit and muscular man, the “gym bro.” It’s visual fantasy. We all perpetuate that and I love to shoot them, but I also find the man with flaws and quirks so interesting. I love to shoot men that are not the editorial standard of beauty. They come to the table with so much depth and are so much more open to being vulnerable and willing to push beyond their comfort zone. Come to me with some extra weight on your frame, or scars, or a not so perfect ass. That’s the real world.
I also make a deliberate decision to include men of color in my work. I LOVE MELANIN! Black, Latino, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern. Those colors and shades put a whole other level of variety and experience and expression in front of my camera. I try to steer away from sites that have no representation of men with darker brown skin. In this day and age with the level of accessibility to images and media if there are no brown people on your page or site, I have to believe its intentional. Interestingly enough when starting out I found it harder to find men of color who were comfortable with expressing themselves in this type of medium. I think a lot of that has to do with cultural norms and ideas about male expression/exposure, but that could be a whole other topic.
You manage to pull this sensuality out of so many different men and what they are giving doesn’t come spontaneously moments after walking into a cold studio or location. One has to ask: What’s your secret? How do you get your men to, open up, so to speak?
I hope the men in all of my images appear approachable or relatable. I always want them to have a pleasant experience when they work with me so I try to make sure they have a say in the process and what I shoot. Some of the images I shoot are very explicit, so I make a point to talk to all of my subjects about respecting them and the art we create. This includes contracts and privacy rights and their own personal limits regarding body exposure.
When they tell me about the insecurities with their bodies, or about their history of depression or their battle with cancer, that brings value and meaning to the shoot. I want that out there on the table. It’s real. I don’t want us to spend all our time together talking about protein powder and bicep curls.
That connection when we talk or meet before the shoot translates to respect and trust. I like to think that allows for a more meaningful experience for them. I couldn’t get that same connection and willingness to be vulnerable and real if they just walked into the studio and we said hello and then two minutes later I asked them to spread their legs so I can get a shot of their pubic hair spilling out of their jockstraps ( I think I just got lost in a visual fantasy for a second. Let me bring myself back. LOL). I never want a subject to just stand and pose. Let’s have fun, create a fantasy or expose the real you. Who do you want to be? What do you want the world to see? I love helping them with that process and guiding and encouraging in any way possible.
Though smolderingly sensual, the men also appear approachable, which, of course, makes them all that more appealing. Some of the most powerful photos are those of men kissing.
When I shoot couples, I love the interaction. I want to capture their natural chemistry. I will often tell them to pretend I am not there and have a little make out session. I leave it up to them to decide how far to take it. I don’t do porn but I let them naturally engage with each other as if I wasn’t there. A staged kiss doesn’t always work, so I encourage them to let go. My job is to capture that with my camera. I’ve met some amazing couples, some are still together and some aren’t but the palpable connection they had or still have is undeniable when captured in camera.
From your Street Life series, there were several: the bus stop image with perfectly caught reflection, the man touching the store mannequin and I loved the leatherman/unicorn – little girl's smile. The black and white photos are very graphic, while your color photos feel like paintings. This Cuban photo feels like Dutch master in the way light and color are captured. (There may be other more apt references for paintings similar to the photo, but I’m a Dutch master fan, so it’s what comes to mind.)
Yes, the other part of my work is the Street/Travel/Environmental Portraiture. For that I use my full name-Jason Jackson. The audience is different. It’s definitely more of a Fine Art genre and consumer. I had a great experience in London in 2019 where I exhibited my work at Artrooms London. It was nerve wracking at first, being my first big exhibition, but it really helped me hone that part of my skills, the preparation and the strategies and the networking. Some of my work sold which is what every artist wants and I had a great team helping me to figure it all out.
My boyfriend was unbelievably supportive as well as my mentor Leonides Molinar and fellow artist Ricardo Francis at Leonidesarts who helped me with curating and navigating the ins and outs of my first big exhibition.
I am a loyal Sony Alpha user with all of my work. My current workhorse is the Sony A7r3. They have an amazing community of photographers and they really promote a sense of community instead of competition amongst their consumers. When doing my Street and Travel work, I often shoot in black and white to avoid distraction and my own personal bias toward color preferences. This allows me to focus solely on composition and the moment with less influence. It’s all digital so I can switch back and forth to color and black and white if I need to later. My final choice really depends on the mood I catch on camera and my own instinctive feeling or connection to that moment.
What is it you are looking for and what is it you want those viewing your photographs to feel? (Perhaps it’s one and the same.) What is you hope comes across?
For all of my work the goal is the same: I want to make the viewer feel something, to relate to what they see. It can be as simple as primal lust or joy, or as complex as the need for self-reflection and remembrance. Beyond the technical aspect like tone and color and composition I want them to have a sense of empathy and connectedness to the work. If they feel that, then I’ve achieved my goal with my art.
Are there artists or photographer who’ve influenced your look or technique?
My Influences? I think i would call them my inspirations just as much as influences. Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, Vivian Maier, and Roy DeCarava to name a few.
My street and travel work is so dear to my heart. The intent and emotion you spontaneously capture when shooting in the street has made me a better observer and helps me in the more structured work when I am shooting men for THE EROTIESE PROJECT. It’s how I started out with photography and I will always recognize and honor that as the foundation for all of my work. It really shapes how I construct a visual narrative.
When you show your photos, how large are the photos that are printed and displayed?
I am very selective about the materials used for printing. I want my work to last so I intentionally print on archival paper and only offer limited editions. It’s more expensive but worth the investment for the buyer. Some images I will also have printed and mounted on metal. In my own perfect world everything would be 20x30 inches for bigger, LOL. I rarely printer smaller than 16x24 for a client. My work shows better on a larger scale.
Every image on my website or Instagram is potentially for sale so anyone interested should definitely reach out to me. Clients have varied tastes so if they see something that interests them, I try to curate a specific collection of images for them to choose from, some of which are not actually on my website or on Instagram.
How do you approach your street photography? Do you always carry a camera? Sit and watch, wait? Or plan? Or a combination of both and luck?
My Street/Travel work is often most compelling to me when I capture that raw fleeting moment. I want that moment frozen, it could be about an emotion-anger, fear, confusion, joy. I will sit in a single spot sometimes and watch the world unfold in front of me. Other times I am pushing through a crowd and shooting on the fly. It really depends on my mood and location sometimes. My camera is on me about 75-80% of the time. Those spontaneous street moments are priceless.
What is it you hope your THE EROTIESE PROJECT images say general? About masculinity? About being gay?
I really hope the images from THE EROTIESE PROJECT challenges our ideas of how the construct of masculinity is portrayed. Gay, straight or otherwise, I want men to be comfortable with expressing their own version of what it means to be a man. I would love some straight men to come forward to challenge that as well. Ownership of our own personal biases is important. That also holds true to me. I am acutely aware that I have no trans representation in my work and that needs to change.
Do you take commissions?
Yes, I definitely do commissioned work. I rely on a group of men that I already worked with to do most of the non-commissioned work, but I definitely do commissioned work for both THE EROTIESE PROJECT as well as my street and travel work. Sometimes its erotic imagery people want and sometimes its environmental portraits. It depends on what the client/subject wants.
To purchase or inquire about commissioned work, contact Jason via THE EROTIESE PROJECT Instagram page or website.
Jason’s work was recently featured in the annual multi-disciplinary LGBTQ event “EVERYBOOTY” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2018. Jason was also chosen to be a part of select group of artists to participate in ARTROOMS LONDON (2019), an international art exhibition and innovative art fair supporting independent artists from all over the world. His work is now in private collections both in the US and internationally.
Erotic Intent is produced by Andy Reynolds at Popular Publicity.