Jesse Marlow is a street photographer based in Melbourne, and a member of In-Public. He recently published his book: “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them.” The images were shot over a 9 year period on the streets of Australia and Europe and features 50 color photographs. I interview him on his start in street photography, the book-making process, and his interest in color film.
Great having you Jesse! For starters, can you share how you got started in street photography?
When I was 8 years old my uncle gave me a book called ‘Subway Art’, which chronicled the New York Subway graffiti scene. This triggered something in me and with the help of my parents, who would drive me around from wall to wall, I started documenting the walls that began appearing across Melbourne in the mid 1980’s. I kept shooting photos of graffiti all through my teenage years and then enrolled in a photography course after high school. I had a lecturer that showed me Alex Webb’s book ‘Hot Light Half Made World’ and it blew my mind. His use of colour and composition inspired me to get out there and shoot real life. I shot street photos around Melbourne for the next few years and then in 2000, I met Trent Parke who along with his wife Narelle Autio had just joined in-public. He encouraged me to submit a folio to the group.
You have been part of In-Public for around 13 years now. How has the group helped you grow and develop as a photographer?
I joined in-public in 2001 as a 23 year old. I was still green, learning and trying to find my own voice as a photographer shooting street photos. Having a core group of friends and mentors such as the in-public photographers really fast-tracked my development. I’m forever grateful to the members for taking a punt on me and letting me into the group. Apart from the great friendships, the (private) online discussion board has been where photos and ideas of mine have been first tested and grown. Having that peer support and quality of the other members critique my work has been invaluable
I’m a huge fan of the colors and abstractions in your work. Who are some photographers and artists who have inspired the way you see color?
Towards the end of my Wounded series, which I shot from 2003 – 2005, I began shooting colour. All my work up until then had been B+W and the time felt right for a change. I thought a switch to colour would be a good thing for the progression of my work. At the time, I was looking at masters like Joel Meyerowtiz, William Eggleston, and Mitch Epstein, but over the next few years as the series progressed I began finding inspiration from Australian painters Jeffrey Smart and Howard Arkely. Smart’s playful use of scale and colour and Arkley’s hyper-real take on Australian suburbia definitely inspired me.
Congratulations on your new book, “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them“. Can you share how you came up with the concept of the book? Can you also share your editing and sequencing process?
After Wounded, the Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them series began and I worked on it, uninterrupted, for 9 years. There was no real concept as such for the series, more a visual style and aesthetic running through the work. I’ve always been interested in the photographic book as a way of showcasing a body of work and the idea that this series would become a book was decided back in 2008.
In 2012 I teamed up with the Australian photography publisher M.33 and worked closely with Helen Frajman for 18 months editing and sequencing the series and turning it into a finished book. Having shot the series over a number of years the broader set of pictures had edited itself. We mainly worked on tightening it up, and keeping it to a round figure of 50 photographs that worked in the form of a book.
How have other people helped you out together the book?
The members of in-public, through the private discussion board, have certainly been a big help with the initial editing of the work.
Why do you photograph? What draws you to keep shooting after all these years?
I’m still really drawn to the uncertainty of shooting out on the street. It’s the thrill of the chase that continues to drive me. Having said that, the uncertainty of street photography can also have it’s moments, especially when it feels you are going through a quiet period.
What do you look for when you’re shooting in the streets? And how often would you say you get a “keeper” in your work?
I don’t generally head out with any pre-conceived ideas of what I might be looking for (Wounded series aside). My working methods are more about just being out and about with my camera and keeping my eyes open. Having lived and worked in Melbourne my whole life, I like to think I have a pretty good knowledge of the city, so I have a database of locations and favourite spots that work well at certain times of the day.
In terms of strike rates, I think I shot a couple thousand rolls of film over the nine year period of the Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them series. I think anywhere between 5 and 10 “keepers” would be a good year’s work for me…
You shoot your color work on film. Can you share why you shoot on film? Is it the look, the process, or something else which draws you to it?
I shot about 95% of the Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them series on Fuji 400 Superia film. There’s a few photos in the final edit that were shot on Fuji 50 ISO Velvia transparency film, which I experimented with for a bit early on in the series. I’ve always shot film for myself and continue to do so for a couple of reasons.
Working commercially with digital cameras, and I make a conscious effort to always have my film camera with me. This means I can clearly distinguish when I’m shooting for myself and for a client. Also, I still enjoy the mystery and suspense of shooting an image and then having to wait for the results. In this instantaneous world, it’s nice to have a few things to look forward to.
For street photographers tying to find their own vision, what advice would you give them?
I think finding your own style comes with time, experimentation and an awareness of what other work has already been done by other photographers. I also don’t think it is something that can be rushed.
Who are some other street photographers you recommend people to check out?
All of the in-public photographers of course. Matt Stuart is currently working on a book of his colour work, which will be a must have. Stephen McLaren has been shooting a really strong new body of work from San Francisco, and just the other day I came across an interesting series of photographs shot on the streets of South Korea, by Trevor Marczylo. There is so much happening at the moment in the street photography world. So many different collectives, blogs, exhibitions and books. Exciting times !
Anything else you would like to share? Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?
I’ve been shooting B+W again for a bit of a change. The last year or two of the colour work became an uphill struggle, as what I was looking for was so dependent on colour. As a result I found myself shooting less and less. Now, I feel like the shackles are off again, which I think can only be a good thing…
More photos from “Just Don’t Tell Them, Show Them”
Previews of “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them” book
Below are some previews of Jesse’s beautiful yellow book:
Purchase “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them”
Jesse only has 1000 limited editions of “Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them” available, and they are all signed! Don’t miss out, and make sure to pick up a copy of your own before they sell out! You can also read a nice review of the book on “Fixed Focal Life.”
- M.33, Melbourne 2014
- Hardback, 112 pages, 50 colour photographs, 12½ x 9¾”
- Limited edition of 1000 copies
- Australia-$70 AUD (includes postage)
- Rest of the World-AIR MAIL-$85 AUD (includes postage)
- Rest of the World-SEA MAIL-$75 AUD (includes postage)
Order your copy on Jesse’s site here.