Interview with Jason Lee

Back in late 2016 James Moreton caught up with the large-format Polaroid master, Professional Skateboarder and Stillwater lead guitarist Jason Lee. The article was published in AllFormat Issue 1.

Jason Lee
Jason Lee

JM: Why do you shoot film?

JL: Because I’m a photographer, and, to me, to be a photographer means to shoot film. I’ve never owned a digital imaging device and never will. To me, photography and digital image making are two completely different things. It’s a heated debate, I know, and I never want to be disrespectful or too indulgent in said debate, but those are my feelings about it.

JM: Do you have a favourite camera and film stock?

JL: I love my old large format cameras that I’ve had for years. my leica m6, too, and even point-and-shoot cameras, like the olympus xa or the nikon 28ti; anything that uses film, really. Favorite film is probably Polaroid 804 (8x10); it’s just perfect to me; smooth and charcoal-like. Most of my conventional B&W film photos are reverse-processed (slides) by dr5. I have been using that process for 10 years now because I like that what you do in-camera as the final result. And being that I shoot mainly for publication, versus darkroom printing, the dr5 photos are great for scanning. In this process, I love rollei retro 80s, rollei IR400, hp5 at EI 3200, and delta 100 at 50; depends on what I’m in the mood for I guess. I also really love agfa scala, which Dave at dr5 can process. I don’t shoot much color but I do love shooting expired color neg films and pulling them, like portra 800.

JM: There seems to be a lot of synergies between the skateboarding world and the world of photography. Some of my favourite photographers were skateboarders and good photography seems to be a big part of skating - would you agree and how much of an impact has skating had on your photography?

JL: Artistic inclination is very common among skaters I think because skateboarding is itself a very creative world, from design to filmmaking, and the way one skates; it’s all creative. Music and imagery and filmmaking are all used alongside skateboarding, it’s amazing to see how different people express themselves. Because of skateboarding, its culture and the various personalities and influences that I’ve been exposed to, especially people like Mark Gonzales and Chris Pastras, I’ve been turned on to things that I probably otherwise wouldn’t have. Skateboarding and art go hand in hand.

JM: If you could only rescue one photobook from a house fire, which one would you rescue?

JL: ‘On Reading’ by Kertesz.

JM: With Fuji discontinuing film nearly every month but with the likes of new cameras from the Impossible project and film from Japan Camera Hunter - what are your thoughts on the current state of the film industry?

JL: It’s a bummer to see films being discontinued, but it’s alive enough to stay hopeful and productive. All of my large format polaroid films are now of course expired, but most of it is still useable and I plan on getting through it all for more publications over the next few years. The discontinuation of 3000b is a bummer but there’s still plenty of it out there and it’ll last quite a while. It’s very cool to see people and groups making new films or bringing back dead ones.

JM: How important is social media to the film photography community?

JL: I was a longtime Instagram holdout because I just thought the whole thing was silly and a lot of it still very much is, but seeing how strong the film community is on IG, I find it inspiring enough to keep at it. It’s been fun having the @filmphotographic page too, which I started a little over a year ago I think. It’s encouraging to see how many film consumers there are out there.

JM: Can you speak a bit about how you went about selecting and editing together images for you upcoming book?

JL: There’s a flow to it - day to night, night back to day, outskirts to within a city and then back out to the outskirts. A run of B&W and then some color and then back to some B&W. Grouping people together here and there. Themes within a theme I guess. But the whole thing tells (or should tell) a kind of story, without hitting anyone over the head with it. I’ve never felt that photography should be explained. There’s a flow to it and it’s based on how it feels more than how it looks. You create that feeling by how the photos are placed within the book. My upcoming book is all peel-apart film photos taken in America and hopefully there’s a good overall presentation there that will give a certain feel to the viewer based on the contexts and the films used.

Jason Lee
Jason Lee

JM: Any advice for little known photographers who want to get their work into the public view?

JL: Make books, use Instagram, start groups, websites, podcasts, blogs…

JM: Are there any interesting photography-related stories you would like share?

JL: I photographed Dennis Hopper with 8x10 804 Polaroid film and the one image I kept (I rip up the ones I don’t like until I get the ‘keeper;’ this was back when I was shooting more publication portraits) got stolen from a gallery in Los Angeles and 2-1/2 years later it was recovered. Had it been a print, I would have let it go, but because it was a one-off, and the only 8x10 polaroid of Hopper, it was definitely a bummer. it was nice to get it back. Other than that, I’m usually out there somewhere shooting alone and it’s often pretty uneventful, just me and my cameras.

Jason Lee
Jason Lee

JM: On a scale of 1 to 10, how cool is Kevin Smith? (And does he chat much?)

JL: 10. super laid back, super cool.

Thanks Jason!


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