Jeff Newsom went from being a young artist, to a competitive gamer, to a travelling musician, to aspiring physicist. Today, in his thirteenth year as a wedding photographer, his photographs are an unending video game, with the play of visuality much like an improvised musical performance, his work, seeking to understand the physicality of the various atoms that come together, to form a story.
Life Is Too Important To Spend Time Doing Things That Do Not Make You Happy
The biggest secrets behind photographers who walk their own path, are often, the really simple ones. For Jeff, it was a simply a matter of asking himself who he was. “When I started photographing weddings back in 2004, my goal was to be really good, and of course, what we define as good is only related to what we have seen. Not only are we settings our sights low, unmindful of our true potential, it also means that we are trying to fit in,” he says. The catalyst to this self introspection was a photograph he made in 2006, something that he defines as too cheesy, not fitting his vision. “The moment I shot it, I knew I had to stop. I started to experiment, started to use the language instead of merely following it. It is not an easy transition, it needs a fine balance. But life is too important to spend time doing things that do not make you happy.”
The only way to delve deeper within a particular subject, or a certain kind of photography, is to delve deeper within oneself. Around the time he was struggling to redefine his vision, Jeff took inspiration from his childhood, from a series of cartoons that he would obsessively watch as a kid. Voltron: Defender of the Universe, a popular American animated series of the eighties featured a team of extraordinary astronauts who come together to pilot a super robot called Voltron. “I realised that I was seeking excellence, but for that, I needed to find connection. Each of the astronauts, each of the robots in the cartoon, are awesome. But they still need to come together.”
Voltron of Awesomeness
Thus was formed Voltron of Awesomeness, an identity, a branding, or simply, a philosophy that Jeff chose to embrace. “I had to remind myself that what I do is impossible without a bunch of awesome elements coming together. It is the vision, the technique, my past and present, and most importantly, people on the outside, the ones who are getting married, and the others who are a part of that unique celebration. I had to connect with all of these, so that they together, it could be a Voltron of awesomeness. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of every person who I work with, the power of the magic that can happen, when things come together.” Most crucially, it is Newsom reconnecting with what makes him happy, video games, nerd culture and the kind of movies that also went on to influence his visual aesthetic. Much like a video game, his photos took on a heightened sense of reality, his bold colour palette influenced by the eye-popping contrast of reds and blues in games and cartoons.
The sheer amount of technique that seems to have gone behind making some of his photos is mindboggling. Unconventional lens choices, long exposures, multiple exposures, and sometimes, all of them, come together in the same picture. It’s almost a layering, a deliberate construction that he seems to do, something that reminded me of a process followed by photographers from other genres who have been inspired by surrealism, Koci Hernandez (in his street work) and Erwin Blumenfeld (in his iconic fashion photos).
The Madness Is The Method
Interestingly enough though, Newsom says that there is no method to his madness, the madness is the method. “It’s not like I have a bag of tricks, a series of previsualised frames that I then execute with different couples. No. More than being an artist, I am a problem solver. I look for constraints, things that push me into a corner and make me react,” he says. Being in unpredictable situations with very little time at hand means that there’s always a solution that needs to be thought of. And very often, the peculiarity of the way his photographs look, is not him creating art merely to be different, but is actually his spontaneous solution to the situation. “I do not like to preconceive anything, because giving myself a false sense of control will only restrict me, only pigeonhole my vision. It’s more like, uh oh, we have a situation, maybe the light is low, maybe the space is constructed… and what do we have here, a flash, a tripod, a phone, now let me see how I can bring these things together in the three minutes that I have before the couple needs to rush off towards the next part of the ceremony.
A Series Of Unending Serendipitous Discovery
Instinct plays a pivotal role in the way he makes photos, and that is something which he correlates with the art that he created even before he took up photography.”Even with illustration, it was the first line that would lead to the second, the second, that would lead to the third. At the time of putting pencil to paper, I’d not know where it would lead me. I would just start sketching.” Wedding photography, for Jeff Newsom, is a series of unending serendipitous discovery.
Maybe that is the reason why his work continues to remain fresh. Maybe that is why, despite the craftsmanship being an obvious highlight, his photos do not look laboured. Even when his use of technique is audacious—he’d use a tilt-shift not only to play with focus, but also to shift planes, bend lines, skew perspectives—the final photograph comes across as just someone having fun, it’s cool, it’s effortless. “A lot of my favourite photographs, some of which people consider to be very intricately crafted, are actually the failures, where I did not achieve what I actually set out to make.” Instead of lamenting the fact that the picture hasn’t gone in the direction that he wanted it to, Jeff seeks great thrill in the fact that it has wandered, to a side that he wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. His favourites are often sloppy, he says, the sloppiness adding an element, an edge, a spark that he couldn’t have conceived. It is where reality surprises his imagination.
What The Colours Of The Sky Looked Like
Beyond reality and imagination, it is the idea of memory that inspires Jeff Newsom. He is creating new ones, and yet drawing from his own. Photography, for him, is not merely the documentation of a moment, but also the crafting of the final print. He says, “I process my photos myself, so that I can bring in my memory of the moment, and interpret the colour based on that memory, on how the photograph make me feel, and not so much, what it actually looked like in reality.” He have always been inspired by the impressionists. Monet, Van Gogh, their use of movement and emotion, their use of colour. “That is probably how I am wired. I went skydiving, once, an event that left such a deep impact on me. And not because of the obvious adventure attached to it. My only memory is not the thrill of falling. It is of what the colours of the sky looked like.”
Jeff is one of the panelists of SILK INSPIRE 2017 festival, and will be in India on October 6th-10th to give a seminar, as well as a master class. He will be available to meet photographers. Get your ticket for India’s first Wedding Photography festival, and come meet him in Goa this October.