Monday, 20 July 2015

Jack Simon

Los Altos Hills, CA

When did you start getting ‘serious’ about photography? What triggered or sparked your interest?

About 10 years ago I got serious about photography as a hobby. I have always liked having a pursuit in my life that consumes me. I get a bit obsessive about my interests. Windsurfing had served that for me, but I was getting less excited about it after twenty years. I've always enjoyed viewing photography. After buying a digital point and shoot and finding I had some knack, I pursued learning about the technical aspects of photography while exploring different directions. Wandering urban environments to find scenes that interested me felt quite natural.

To you, is it more about documenting life or rather about a form of artistic expression?

It's certainly not about documenting life. Well, initially when I was taking photos during travel, some documentation was occurring. But early on I was attracted to the work of storytellers. The fashion photographers Guy Bourdin and Tim Walker  created fantastical and dreamy scenes; images that I loved as created by the American art photographers Peter Joel Witkin and Gregory Crewdson. Having neither the talent or resources for creating ideas for a shoot as they have and wanting to find unposed and unplanned images, I mostly enjoy finding images in the real world that hint to a greater story. I also value the artistry of photographers like Alex Webb and Constantine Manos whose work is more about the art of their photographs than the documentation.

You have worked as a psychiatrist for four decades. Are there moments you notice that you’re applying techniques or patterns of thought you used to work with then while engaging in photography?

Yes and no. I don't have any conscious awareness that I am applying my work as a psychiatrist to my photography, but I imagine my psychiatric work helps me pay attention to the nuances, and be quickly responsive to an emerging scene. I am more oriented to an intuitive direction both in my office and on the street photographing. I think about the work I am doing with my patients before and after the sessions, but tend to be in a fairly intuitively responsive state during the meetings. With photographing, too, my thinking is mainly before or after. If you think too much on the street, you may miss your opportunity.  Anyway, I'm either engaged with family or listening to music while shooting.

The major part of your work could be described as street photography, and you write that you seek for unplanned situations to capture everywhere. Do you ever feel like a determined ‘hunter' for specific motives, too?

No, not a hunter for anything specific. Part of the excitement is having no idea what I might find. The "hunt" is more of a receptivity to the occasions that occur. Someone wrote "photographs find me."  I may go somewhere with the hope of finding images, but I have little control about being successful. I spent two weeks in Japan seeing and photographing interesting scenes, but the image that found me was in the airport lounge prior to returning home. So as we often recommend in street photography, I carry a camera all the time.

How much of your work is shot on film or digital cameras? Which do you prefer for which occasions?

It's always digital. I learned photography on a digital camera and especially learned about composition by being able to see my results on the LCD screen.  Now it's more about my lack of patience. I prefer looking at my images right away on my computer rather than days later. My editing may result in returning months later to discover a photo but I need to see results immediately while working.

Looking back at your professional life, what did you love about being a psychiatrist? Were there any downsides whilst at it or any negative/positive effect you noticed in retrospect?

I hope any patients reading this can tolerate my saying that I don't love being a psychiatrist. I do like it, find it interesting; I enjoy working with patients and helping them. But my passions have been my pastimes and my family, while my profession is different. That being said, I hope to never retire. I'm now working very part time and look forward to going to my office. The downsides earlier in my practice was carrying around some emotional burden from what my patients were going through. I see far fewer patients, and the burden is much less.

If you were invited to make a commencement speech, what would you include in your speech in any case?

My favourite photographs. I'm not that verbal. And I would repeat what was said at my daughter's commencement: It's important in life to stay interested rather than be interesting. Perhaps to extend this further, I'd suggest remaining focused on your character and relationships more than on your achievements.

Do you engage in other forms of art, too?

Only observing. I'm a museum junky and love modern art. 

Would you say that ‘too much input’ could block our minds, and make it difficult to be and stay inspired?

I think that's very individual. I function more from my intuition and feelings. I can look through photography books and magazines, see work in museums etc., but my mind is fairly free of thinking when I am photographing. Those who operate more intellectually in their heads may find the influences becoming too much. Of course it's the type of influence, too, that can have a different impact. I find other people's creativity and excitement very stimulating. The input, though, of being down on yourself and your work can interfere. I don't know anyone who doesn't develop self-doubts about their work.  When I'm in that mode, I am usually blocked.

How will you spend your summer?

This summer has already been and will continue to be wonderfully busy with travels.  My wife and I just came back from a week in Nantucket attending a film festival and then spent a week traveling around Iceland with our son and daughter in law. In a few days we leave for Los Angeles where my children and grandchildren live. We will spend three weeks helping take care of the grandchildren while my daughter is busy producing a feature film being shot in Venice, California. Of course, I hope that some images will find me there.

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