The Camera is the Primer for Jason's Canvas
Brisbane based post-photography artist, Jason Cahill is on a journey of evolving creative development, interrupting societal norms and following his passionate inner voice. His concepts are deliberate, curious, deep-rooted and perceptive.
Discover more about Jason:
What drew you to photography as a medium and how do you plan and develop your works? ~ I have had a keen interest in videography and photography since I was a teenager and it was a hobby for a long time. I wouldn’t say it was a passion initially as I tend to be quite pragmatic and never seriously considered that it was something I should invest too much time in. I couldn’t see that I would be able to make anything of it, though there was something buried deep within me that that kept nagging at me that if I did give it a go I would really love it. After travelling and working in the finance industry with no real direction or purpose that nagging become louder to the point where I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I finally decided to throw in my stable and secure 9-5 life and let myself explore this side of myself that I hadn’t let come to the surface before.
Not really knowing where to begin I opted for a formal education by enrolling in a Bachelor of Photography at the Queensland College of Art so I could get a grasp on what becoming a photographer/artist would actually involve. Though what had led me to that point was a lifelong love and respect for the medium of photography, the exposure I received to the wider world of visual art led me to pursue a practice more heavily influenced by painters and conceptual interdisciplinary arts practices. I started submitted drawings for my photo assignments which referenced the visual language of photography. That led to interrupted photographic visual forms and eventually to moving images.
I would say that the camera is the primer for my canvas and from there my image making is about play and experimentation. I will settle on a form that I feel best gets the ideas out of my mind and into the world. Consequently I wouldn’t call my work photography. Post-photography might be a more accurate description.
What/who have you been influenced by and how do you stay motivated? ~ I draw inspiration from a lot of Australian artists. I am particularly fond of the radical ideas of John Brack, Jeffrey Smart and Albert Tucker. I find the practice of many contemporary Aboriginal artists hugely inspirational for their ability to take grand social paradigms and distil them into simple, thought provoking and educational work. I find myself completely taken by the work of Tony Albert, Tracey Moffatt, Fiona Foley and Gordon Bennett to name only a few. Though I don’t think you can see any of those artists in my work visually. I tend to try and take from them a process, from ideas to output, along with an interest to show Australia for how it really is as opposed to how society at large likes to think it is.
Staying motivated can be a real challenge for anyone in a creative field. Speaking for myself I put an enormous amount of emotional energy and time into my work so starting something new can feel daunting. I am fortunate though that when I start something I tend to get swept up and consumed so I power through until I feel I have reached some degree of resolution. I get motivated in the first instance by opening art books, looking up artworks online and going to exhibitions. Immersion in creative ideas is a big motivator. A pending deadline can be a pretty powerful force for action too.
What camera gear/software do you use and what style are you implementing at the moment? ~ My basic tools are a full frame digital SLR and a computer. I find myself constantly zoomed in to a space where I am manipulating individual pixels so I need to make sure that my source material is of a really high quality. That means understanding how to shoot properly with regard to focus and light like any conventional photographer. If my photos are bad I can’t use them to get to my finished product. The whole process grinds to a halt. Once I have the basic elements right I spend hours at a time in front of my screen, first with a process of play and experimentation which then leads to a process of refinement. I usually start with a concept and have an idea in my mind of where I think I am going to end up. Sometimes the path isn’t as straight forward as I imagine and through an engagement with the materials, a back and forth dialog develops. Sometimes an image has it’s own ideas of where it wants to end up and I have to follow that through and see where it takes me. My process for image-making is quite meditative and the more time I spend with my materials the more I understand what it is that they can do.
I have a fascination with the form of things rather than the detail. I think that a focus on form leads us to have a deeper engagement with the ideas surrounding those things rather than becoming bogged down with intellectual arguments over the minutiae. Figuration is pretty central to my visual language.
What messages are being conveyed through your work? ~ I spent the better part of my youth as a social activist campaigning for various progressive causes. That experience has led to learning in great detail about how society functions and how culture is shaped and how it intersects with power. Naturally that has fed into my art practice though I am not interested in conveying specific messages. My work is not attempting to campaign for a particular cause but rather to shine a light on our culture more generally.
Currently my work references Australiana and I am often told that it somehow feels Australian in some way. This fascinates me because if you look beyond stereotypes, “Australianness" is quite elusive and hard to describe. My contention is that alienation from production, place and environment as well as our unresolved colonial past have led to a culture which lacks authenticity and consequently stymies the development of our personal lives and communities. My work is ultimately an exploration of Australian identity.
To me the mood of an image is central. I really need the audience to have a visceral experience first before an intellectual one. People tend to feel before they think so I put a lot of focus on how I want the viewer to feel. I know what my work is about but I don’t want to beat people over the head with a message. If I can engage people somewhere deep and subconscious I am not too concerned where they take that specifically. My goal is to draw out underlying assumptions about the world which then provoke a dialogue or exploration of those ideas. If those ideas can come to the surface, if we can confront the way we understand things then we can get to a place where the world can change for the better.
Where are you based and after graduation from the Bachelor of Photography - what's next? ~ I am currently based in Brisbane. It is home and I think I will always come back to Brisbane. Every so often I get that itch which leads me to try life somewhere new. Whether that be the Western Australian desert or the banks of the Yangtze River.
I am always busy and often find myself with quite a few balls in the air. At the moment I am focused on developing some collaborative projects with other visual artists and musicians. At this stage I am saying yes to every opportunity that pops up. I am pretty hungry for new experiences and the chance of broadening my knowledge and skill base. I have been asked to submit work to an exciting new literary and culture magazine which is in development. I am preparing to submit work to a few art prizes and I’m sketching out some ideas for some commissioned work. I am really keen to continue my research into Australian identity and will probably look at further study in the years to come.
What does success mean to you? ~ Success to me is when I feel my work has reached a point where it is doing what I want it to and as a consequence when someone else is able to describe my work back to me in a way that I can tell they have become engaged by the ideas. My work won’t have succeeded if I can sense only a superficial or surface reaction.
More broadly, success for me personally would mean that I am hungry and inspired to create and that I am making work that I enjoy.
Are you working on any creative projects this year and what are they? ~ This year is my year to up-skill. I am delving into sound recording via creating an augmented reality sound experience. I am also learning some more technical skills around moving image and video production. I am planning a couple of music videos and there is a chance of working with some spoken word artists but that is early days so we will see what happens.
I am keen to produce some new work and have an exhibition before the end of the year.
Where can people see your work/connect with you online? ~ I have some video work on my Vimeo channel. I have some examples of my other work on my Instagram @jasoncahill.photo and my website www.jasoncahill.photo
What advice can you give to budding photographers wanting to start their journey as a professional photographer? ~ I think the most important thing for anyone is to dig deep and find out what it is you really want to do with photography. Don’t just do what you think you should do because it is the way other people have done it or what would be the most lucrative path. If you are not passionate you won’t have the drive that is required to put in the hard work necessary to be successful in a creative field. Knowing what you want to do can be a struggle in itself. Be open to trying things that might be outside your comfort zone and try to say yes to opportunities that present themselves.
In five words - who is Jason Cahill? ~ Curious. Open. Creative. Shy. Contrary.