Behind the Shot with Jason Tippet
Credit - Jason Tippet
I’d not heard of Nick Thoburn (from Islands) until I read the Press Release for his latest release and followed the breadcrumbs. Only then did I realise he’s done a lot of the theme music for some podcasts I listen to - notably Serial as I’d only finished listening to it the night before (Nice White Parents).
Part of the press release was the above image:
There was just something about it that made me take notice. Maybe it was the vibrant colours or the 70’s film vibe but I also wanted to know more about it. So I found Jason online via Instagram and reached out, which is something I’ve never done before. To my surprise and delight he responded…
CRB: Hi Jason, hope you're well and keeping safe. I'm reaching out because alongside my photography I also run a music site for publishing news and reviews. Mostly to help me get access to gigs.
I was just looking at a PR release for Islands and saw the shot of the cardboard cutouts in front of Bills Liquor Market and I absolutely love it. It led me here (instagram) to check out the rest of your work which I really like.
This is the first time I've ever reached out like this but the shot really connected with me.
Jason Tippet: Hey Scott, thanks for reaching out with some kind words, so glad you appreciate it. Are you in atwater as well?
CRB: I'm based over the pond in Leeds, UK
JT:Wow man, you’ve seen some bands, great shots
CRB: Thank you, like a lot of photographers I do weddings and events alongside a full time job to pay for gear etc but my passion is live music photography and it's been a struggle the last 12months without any but posting the music news articles has been a great way to keep the fire burning.
I saw an article you'd done on talkhouse about your street photography from December 2019 and saw the same Bills store in one of those shots…
JT: haha, yeah, I love this neighborhood... I did a whole book on this area. I've been here a while, everyone knows each other. I just bought a camera around with me everywhere I went and suddenly I had enough to make a book. The oscilloscope was a dream.
CRB: I was wondering how the PR shot of the cardboard cutouts in front of Bills came about?
JT: let’s see... i think the label wanted the whole band somehow but they weren’t able to travel. so, Nick and I thought getting cutouts made and setting up scenarios could be fun. I usually shoot street photography so we just took them around town and had fun setting them up in random spots. I’m obsessed with bills and older spots in the neighborhood so that was our main idea.
CRB: I love the idea that it got everyone together in one show with the cutouts, the shot has a very 70’s film look. Was this intentional?
JT: Yeah, I'm glad we figured out a way to get everyone in the shot. The band is pretty spread out and travel wasn't an option at the time.
That's just part of the look I'm always going for... a gritty snapshot. I want it to feel like a photo a mom or dad might take on a family vacation in the 70's or 80's. Flash on, quick moments, get way too close to people... maybe a little blur from the movement.
CRB: Was it specifically for the band? I also noticed the album artwork was also shot by you.
JT: All of this was specifically with Nick, he’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with and this new album is so damn good we wanted to take our time and make it special. We drove out to death valley for the shots in the dunes... Alex was a good sport and was up for getting out of town and being shot. But Nick and I spent over a month figuring out different aspects to the shot, the back story, going to different rental houses, finding the right suitcase. such a great experience.
CRB: With the album cover, did Nick come to you with a brief of what he had in mind from the get go? Can you tell me more about the collaborative process?
JT: Nick and I usually play some cribbage at his place and listen to records, throw around ideas until we start getting excited about something. He just got a book about the album covers Hipgnosis created, so we were looking through that and came across these red balls scattered all over the desert. It was this album from The Nice, Elegy. Nick liked the idea of a photo of someone out in the middle of nowhere stranded. So, from that we started looking at nearby deserts and we both loved the look of the sand dunes. The only problem was, it was August and Death Valley was reaching record high temperatures, so we had to wait a few months. But, that was nice because it gave us time to work on the back story of this person who's lost in the desert. First we thought a hot air balloon crash would look interesting out in the dunes but ended up liking the parachute with luggage a bit better... and getting a parachute into a national park opposed to a hot air balloon seemed more manageable.
Credit: Jason Tippet
CRB: Was it a film or digital camera? Did you do any post processing to get the look you wanted?
JT: The press photos were 35mm... Portra 160 pushed a stop. Then I bring it into lightroom and add a bit more contrast, crush the blacks a bit... desaturate the oranges. But, nothing too crazy, the film stock and camera get it very close to how I like it.
The album cover was medium format, 120... Ektachrome. We wanted a highly saturated, rich, warm sand to contrast with the blue sky and cool blue shadows. Wanted people to feel that heat.
CRB: The images I’ve seen from your book HEADING TO BILL'S FOR CIGARETTES make me want to know more about these people, these characters, they draw you in and make me want to know more about their lives.
JT: I love that it made you feel that way... you get it, you have an interest in people. Yeah, people like that make me want to get out of the house in the morning. The world is so strange and I mean that in a good way. I make documentaries as well, mostly portraits on people I find interesting... I'm not sure how, but these people just come out of the woodwork and find me. I think if you're open to listening to people, they'll surprise you. You can tell how excited they get to have someone listening to them, makes my day. I think the type of people I'm interested in are looked past by the majority, I like being able to give them a voice or show how great they are in their own way.
CRB: I see some similarities to the work of Martin Parr do you intentionally shoot the way you do or is it more fluid?
JT: Man, I'm flattered, Martin Parr is hands down my favorite photographer. Actually, the inspiration for using cutouts was from a photo of his. In his book, Life's a Beach he has a photo of these guys setting up these cutouts on the beach... and at first glance you're not sure why something feels off, then you realize they're cutouts. The lighting from the cutouts is different, it's a bit overcast outside and then he uses a flash which separates everything even more... it's one of my favorites. Anyhow, the label wanted the whole band in the shot but half of them live in Canada. So, sent that shot over to Nick and suggested doing cutouts with them at a garage sale. That was the original idea, but with the pandemic it didn't feel safe getting that many people together with no masks on, so we tried out some other ideas with the cutouts.
Martin Parr.... I think the similarities in our photography might be our sense of humor... he's not making fun of people, you can tell he has a love and a curiosity with the world, it's playful. The world is so absurd and he gets out there and gets in the middle of it, I appreciate that. And, I love how he uses flash to make things stand out, and his framing is always so well thought out, especially with how quick you have to be with street photography. He just understands so clearly all the things you need to capture a moment... to make it clear what's happening so you can find it as entertaining as he does standing there in the moment. That's the real challenge, and to me no one does it better.
CRB: Do you think you have a style or shooting? When I get asked this I always say no as I’m too close to the work but if I ask a fellow photography friend of mine they will point certain things out that I tend to do in my shots or edits.
JT: A style... that's tough... there's certain things I always do, so I think if you see enough of my photos you'll notice a specific look I'm going for. The sense of humor in my photos probably shines through, I hope. But, It'll probably be years from now for me to see my style evolve into something I think will be remembered... or replicated by someone who's inspired by my work.
CRB: Over the last year I’ve struggled creatively as I normally shoot weddings and events to fund my passion for live music photography. There’s been none of those things happening, I sold a camera in September as it wasn’t getting used and the other has been in a case for at least 3-4 months. I’m itching to shoot something but I’m just not clear on what yet.
JT: I know what you're talking about, and this year has been tricky... I find it so difficult to be creative and get inspired if you're nervous or concerned about things. My personal work has come to a halt only because I don't want to bother people right now, you can't get close to them and people are irritable right now. They don't need some guy snapping a flash off in their face on top of everything else that's going on. So I decided to take a break from street photography during the pandemic. But, I have been taking a lot more portraits and branded work that ties in my style so that has been creatively fulfilling. I've been enjoying it a lot, something I want to continue with.
But, back to being creative... I'm always so inspired with books and themes. I try to pick a theme and run with it. I mean, for my book, Heading to Bill's for Cigarettes it started with me documenting my neighborhood and five years later I had a body of work that I was ready to show people. I always like starting with what I have access to and going from there. My favorite writers write what they know, maybe start with things that are close to you?
CRB: I’ve seen a few interviews online with you from just over a year ago, you were making a film but also you were more excited by photography at that point as filmmaking was your job. How has lockdown life been for you from a creative standpoint?
JT: If I'm being honest, not feeling very creative these days... it comes and goes but mostly it's my friends and collaborators pulling me out of whatever rut I'm in. I feel lucky though, I've DP'd three music videos during the pandemic with Justin Hopkins. He's a good friend that always pushes me... one of my favorite directors to work with. Took photos for KitchenAid, this company Finback has been bringing me out to do more branded work which I really appreciate. Working with companies that hire you for your style and let you do your thing is ideal, so I hope I can do more projects with them. I work with Nick Thorburn quite a bit and he's one of my favorite people to collaborate with. The guy has so many projects going at once... the new record coming out, he's doing another graphic novel, he's writing music for a BBC podcast, we're developing a tv show... so have a few things that are keeping me going.
But, it feels like we're on the right track to things slowly getting back to normal. I can't wait to see Islands play this new album live... something I'm looking forward to.
CRB: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it.
JT: Of course man! always enjoy talking photography, my girlfriend is the only person i see at the moment and she can’t hear about it anymore 🥂
Jason Tippet on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jtippet
Heading to Bill’s for Cigarettes : https://store.oscilloscope.net/products/heading-to-bills-for-cigarettes