Jacob Wood became the Great Lakes Review photography editor in February 2020.
He’s an immigrant from the United Kingdom and has lived in the United States for two years. A resident of Pennsylvania, Jacob’s specialty is landscape photography.
Jacob chatted with us about Instagram and smartphone photography, how to begin appreciating photography as an art form, the work of pairing photos with creative writing, and what he’s hoping to see in the Great Lakes Review submission queue in the near future.
What kind of photography do you specialize in, and what brought you to it?
I specialize in landscape photography, but I’ve tried portraiture, architectural, time-lapse, macro and micro. The only thing I’ve stuck with is landscape. It doesn’t require manipulating people or any studio equipment. I’m able to pair it with other things I enjoy, like going for walks and traveling in new areas. I’m patient when it comes to landscapes, and less so with people.
I started taking landscape photography when I was twelve, on a school trip from the West Midlands of England to Austria. I used the first of my two disposable cameras on the first day of travel. Crooked riverside vineyards in Germany. Austrian mountaintops obscured by “No Smoking” stickers on the coach window. Few of those photos are mountable or even good, but that experience triggered something that I knew I wanted to carry on.
For someone new to appreciating photography as an art form, what are some starting questions they can ask themselves as they’re studying a picture?
Consider why the photo was taken, why the photographer may have chosen that subject. Why might they have chosen that time of day, that point of view?
The answers vary from from viewer to viewer. Maybe the photographer wanted to juxtapose contrasting ideas or images. Or to characterize the subject in a new way. Or to force the viewer to consider a common object from a new perspective. Or to highlight the passage of time or how something man-made interacts with the natural world.
When you ask why of another photographer’s work, you’ll begin to ask it of your own photography, and that’s enlightening.
How has photography been influenced by Instagram and smartphone photography, and do you see that as a good thing?
The democratization of photography is fantastic. Not only does it lower the financial barriers for photographers, but it brings the art form into the lives of more people than ever before. For the first time in history, we’ve opened up the range of perspectives available through photography.
I’ve always believed the best camera is the one you always have with you. Those who criticize smartphone photography and want “perfect” photos—that is, as sharp as possible or the exact right amount of blur—can become too focused on the technical details at the expense of storytelling.
What makes a photography submission stand out to you?
A lot of the work I’m seeing showcases what makes their community or region unique. So far, I’ve seen a lot from Michigan and Chicago; I’d love to publish work from Canada and the Lake Erie/Buffalo regions. Beyond that, I don’t want to tell photographers what they should be submitting. I’m open to being surprised.
What kinds of questions do you ask yourself when you pair a photo with a piece of writing? What role does a photo play when paired with a poem or a piece of fiction?
For someone who works visually, photos get your imagination going and emphasize certain things in the writing. If I’m reading an article about something an individual went through and the article shows me their photo, it feels more real and more personal. If I’m reading about a place and I can see the place in photos, I can better imagine being there. Imagination is one thing; it’s another thing to sense that the place is fully real, that you’re there with the writer.
Photos can be anchors with a particularly abstract piece of creative writing. You might remember a poem or certain lines from a poem if we do a good job of pairing a photo with it—both pieces are enhanced in your mind because of the pairing. It becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
As an immigrant, what question are you asked most often by Americans? (Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer it.)
“Where are you from?”
It’s a deceptively hard question to answer because I don’t know how much they know. If they think I’m Australian (and many people do), then the right answer is “the United Kingdom.” But if they’ve spent a lot of time traveling in the UK or they have relatives there, they need to hear something more specific. There’s just no way to answer it quickly whilst keeping everyone’s pride intact.
“Why are you here?” is also a frequently asked question. Often it has a connotation of suspicion or hostility. Sometimes after I answer, I’ll be judged on the quality of my answer, as if immigration policy is up to the person standing before the immigrant. I suppose in some cases it is.