Out of the Bright Dark by James Neame(@dadseyeview)
One of the most intriguing artists I have come across recently in the mobile photography community is Jeremy Pair, instagram name @thebrightdark. Combining vivid street photography with fictional yet recognisably true to life narratives, his gallery stands out as being particularly imaginative and creative. I wanted to know more about what makes Jay P tick. This is the result…
James: Tell us a little about yourself to start with; where are you based, what’s your background in photography / writing? How did you find out about Instagram?
Jeremy: I was born and raised in Birmingham, AL and I’ve lived on the West Coast for 12 years (5 in LA and 7 in Portland). And I’m currently in Portland.
I dabbled with a Pentax K1000 35mm for about 12 years. But I took about maybe 15-20 rolls of film all together. Probably lots more but a lower number feels right.
And then when I got the iPhone 3G I started downloading all those apps that made shitty iPhone photos look like shitty old vintage photos. So when my friends came back from a web conference called An Event Apart, they were all downloading this new app that had been all the rage at the conference that was yet another vintage filter app. But I usually give every kind of social network a try so I stay up on what’s going on.
I had just gotten the iPhone 4 but I still did not take it seriously as a camera. So I posted photos of coffee and buildings and signs and naked mannequins and rainbows and sunsets and what-I-was-doing-right-now just like everybody. And then I started to come across some people who were posting amazing photos. People like @oggsie, @emmii and @mishobranovic. And some people in the states like @fashion, @last_jedi, @vladatat and @takinyerphoto. I had those thoughts like “Bullshit. They didn’t take those with an iPhone.” But I read comments on their photos where people asked them how they took them and so I went and downloaded all the apps they talked about: ProCamera, Snapseed, etc. I started developing my eye. So then I started taking Instagram and the iPhone as credible mediums for art.
Instagram allowed me to do what film never did and that was to take thousands of horrifyingly bad photos. And have people let me know that they were horrifyingly bad by remaining silent. But at least there was some sort of feedback. “Oh nobody liked this one. Whatever. What do they know.” And now I can see they knew a whole lot. They were complete shit. But I kept taking bad photos. And the more bad photos you take, the better chance you have of taking a good one. And the more good ones you take, the more you can take good ones often. Anyway, I hit my stride over the summer of 2012. And then I started a “proper” street photography account which is @thebrightdark.
I’ve always dabbled in creative writing but did not consider myself a writer until the past few years. But only as a copywriter which I partly do for a living but I never thought of myself as a creative writer. I tried to write a novel a few times but geez they’re so long you know.
As photography became more and more important to me I started to put writing on the back-burner. But this @thebrightdark thing happened and reignited the flame. And perhaps opened up a new channel for a new type of art. I get people have done it before. But I haven’t seen you know “photonovels” that use street photography. Nor have I seen it paired with the brutally honest male-confessional style of fiction.
When the kids were young, it was non-stop work being home with her babies. But always so much love and noise in the house. And she had the energy. Then the kids got older. Moved to other cities. Thousands of miles away. It was just her and her husband for years. It was nice to have the time together. Then eventually he got sick and died. And then for years it was just her. Nights were eerie. A routine kept her sane. The paper and milk at the kitchen table after dinner. Then to the tv for her stories. Then bed. Ten-fifteen every night. Her kids and grandkids never thought about what she did at night. They’d been there for her routine a few times but it didn’t seem so bad because she had company. But they didn’t think about that routine when they were gone. The loneliness and quietness in the house. She could hear the air ducts contracting when the furnace shut off. The ringing in her ears, so obvious. Every night. When would she get sick? She thought. Today was grocery day. She had several things she wanted to get. #realpeopleinfictionalstories
James: Apart from the distinct graphic style, what really makes your work stand out is the fictional narrative that underpins each image. What inspired you to create these stories?
Jeremy: Whiskey. One night I was posting a photo while slightly buzzed and when I went to type the caption I just started typing out what I thought was going on in the photo. I assumed no one would read it. Let’s face it, we’re blowing through our feeds usually trying to catch up “Double tap. Swipe. Double tap. Swipe. Double tap. Swipe. No I don’t think I like that one. Swipe. Double tap.” But I got a couple of nice comments about it. So I did another here and there and then people seemed to be expecting a story with every photo so I was like “Alright, let’s do this.” And it became my thing. I think if I had thought of the idea and then set out to do it, it would not have been as successful. But so far it’s working and I love doing it. Such the perfect creative outlet for me. But of course it’s not enough. Never will be.
James: Can you describe the typical process for one of your posts; does the image provoke the story or is it not as straightforward as that?
Jeremy: I shoot first and then write the story. I was always good at that people-watching game where your friend asks you, “What about that guy? What’s his story?” And then you riff about his or her life. I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in airports. So friends and I did this often.
She texted him and asked if he wanted Vietnamese food. But he wanted Mexican. Like the kind where they have their dishes numbered. As in I’ll have a number twenty-seven with no onions. He was insatiably hungry for it. Not only did he want Mexican he wanted to go eat it by himself. Actually he wanted to go with her but not with the her she was being lately. Vietnamese sounds fine. I’m ok with whatever. He texted. #realpeopleinfictionalstories.
James: Do you have any major influences you’d like to talk about, either in photography, writing or both?
Jeremy: I have my idols and then I have the main principle that I aspire to. And that’s that I want to tell the truth. I’m into realism. I don’t want to take photos and write stories about exotic people. Yeah some photographers are driven to go to villages and slums and crazy places to take photos and that’s cool. We need people that can bring the world to us in a way. But my mission is get ordinary folks like you and I and make them extraordinary. I want to give them your problems so you can see yourself in them. I want you to see they have the same struggles. I want you to start seeing people walking past you on the sidewalk and think, “What’s that lady going through?” Maybe it could help increase our compassion for others. Or at least be a little more considerate. Or even get our faces out of our phones.
I hope that a Basquiat influence comes through in my work. I love the instinct over reason and the vividness in his paintings. They are colorful yet dark and profound. So I guess you could say they’re ‘bright yet dark.’ I love Saul Leiter. Also, Erwin Blumenfeld, Norman Parkinson, and I really love what the Parisian mobile photographers are doing. @cecile_e is one of my favorites. Also @ellla_k, @jklpo, @pierrelegovic, @clok_moitie, @latibod. Oh and not French but @_Marya_ is great. Here in the states I’m really into what @elizabeth_huey is doing. Lots of realism and truth in her work with an intricate sense of humor.
Oh and my favorite writer is David Gates who wrote Preston Falls and Jernigan. A huge influence on my writing. Also Nick Hornby and Joshua Ferris. I fell in love with them because they evoke those thoughts you have that are so private and so suppressed you haven’t acknowledged them because you think you’re the only one that thinks them and then when you read these authors, you’re like, “Wow this guy totally gets me.” It’s a great feeling to be gotten. That’s what I want to do for others.
She wanted to be charmed. She wanted to not expect much and then be surprised. She wanted to think wow is this guy for real. She wanted to think love like this doesn’t actually happen but it was happening. She wanted to have to eat crow about all the times she said there’s no such thing as love and love is only the fear of death plus sexual attraction. She wanted there to be enchantment. She wanted to tremble as he looked into her eyes cupping her elbows in his palms. She wanted there to be a him. She walked into the store and bought a bag of premixed salad. A green apple. Candied walnuts. Vegan Havarti cheese. And two pairs of tights because they had a buy one get one deal and she didn’t even know Fred Meyer sold tights. But they do. She rejoiced. #realpeopleinfictionalstories.
James: All your photographs are in glorious technicolor, but have you ever considered “shooting” in black and white?
Jeremy: I’m not against black and white. I shoot some and post some to my EyeEm account. But it’s just not me. When I was experimenting, I usually turned a photo black and white because I fucked up the white balance beyond repair or I overexposed the sky. I used it as a crutch more than an artistic choice. I started to feel like I was cheating on my values because I meant for the photo to be color and I failed to execute.
When I got my first camera 12 years ago I knew nothing about photography but the one value I set for myself was that I was going to shoot color. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite photographers do black and white and I enjoy it. I get the whole “it allows you to focus on the subject” thing. But for me, my value is realism and truth so I feel I need to shoot in color and keep the colors as close to how they actually look in real life as possible. Not that black and white photos lie. It’s just another truth. My truth is more contextual, and black and white truth is more exclusively expression and emotion and composition.
I used to ignorantly argue against black and white. I’d say, “But your camera shoots color! Modern technology you know! Why would you revert to the past?” But I get it now. Some of the commissioned work I ‘ve started doing with my DSLR is black and white so I’m into it.
A huge thank you to our guest poster James Neames for the fantastic and thoughtful interview with Jeremy. James is a street photographer with an eye for detail and energy. His photographs are a story within a frame. To see his work click here.
Big thanks to James and Jeremy! This is a great example of community. If you are thinking of an interview you would like to do with your favorite mobile photographer, please contact us and let us know. We’d love to have your contribution!
Here are a couple of the other community interviews:
1. A Conversation Between Artists, Geri Centronze interviews Dilshad C
2. Street to Street, Claudine Moitie interviews Matt Coch