Tell me a little bit about what brought you here.
JN: Um, so, when I was going through the whole “senior year, college planning” figuring out thing, I either thought: Mizzou with all my friends, I didn’t want to go out of state or anything crazy like that and most likely not major in photo because they don’t have that there, or go to Missouri Baptist and play volleyball, go to Fontbonne and play volleyball, or go to Maryville and major in photography here. And yeah, it just clicked one day; I was sitting in my high school photo class and thought “this is what I want to do”. I did one tour here and did somewhat of a tour at Mizzou. I knew I didn’t want to be that far away and I wanted to be at a place that I was familiar with so I could do as much as I could; So this was a perfect place for me.
Talk a little bit about the photo thing. Majoring in photo doesn’t happen too often –
It’s kind of a forgotten major. So what was the decision to major in photo, and how does that play out?
Basically, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was coming up with a schedule and whatnot and I learned I had to get a fine art credit. She told me I could either do ceramics or photo one. At that time I had never touched a camera in my entire life and I could’ve kind of cared less. So I just decided to do photo one and thought that I would just be done with my art credit. I took photo one and was like, just amazed because before I had ever touched a camera, I thought they were these little dinky things that you clicked a button and boom, there’s a picture. And so, I took that, learned how to shoot manual within the first few weeks, shot in all film because it was photo one and that’s what the curriculum was for that class. I fell in love with the whole process. It amazed me, so I took photo two, which was more open-ended projects, which I really enjoyed being able to be creative with those. And then my senior year, I took the full AP photo class, which was crazy because you had to do – I don’t know how many weeks are in a high school semester, but you had to do one project every two weeks. The instructions for the project was just one word. So the teacher would say: “your project is deconstruction”, and you had to come up with an idea of how you wanted to show deconstruction in one picture, and you had two weeks to figure it out and do it. That really, I think that really helped me out the most with what I want to do because that – ok, I’m saying hella stuff at one time, it’s kind of all blending together (laughs).
(laughs), That’s ok!
So I’m obsessed with going to concerts; when I went to my first one I was like, “ok, this is sick”. So then I followed tons of people who do concert photography and thought it was even sicker to go to a concert and take photos of it. My teacher got me a pass for Logic, and that was insane, so the projects that I only had two weeks to complete really helped me with quick-turnaround stuff. You had to come up with something, you had to do it, and you had to, like, sit down and do it – you couldn’t procrastinate this kind of stuff. That helped me with going to a show, shooting, coming home, and from the 1000 photos I shot or whatever, go through and pick my 15 favorite ones, go through and lay them out, and yeah, it taught me a lot; So much to do in such little time. In the long run I really want to tour, and that’s what you have to do; you have to do a lot in a really little amount of time and stay consistent with everything. Majoring in photo, all the art projects I have to do, I have to stay on task, I cannot get behind. Everything has taught me to make a schedule. In high school, you didn’t really have to make a schedule or anything, but in college, you have to get to it. I have so much to do in such little time, and yeah it sucks, but it’s what I have to do in order to do what I want to do.
Do you ever find it challenging to stay on task?
Ok, so if you find it challenging, how do you keep yourself staying on task and not fall behind?
For me, I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but if I wake up in the early morning, and think I’m going to whip out a project or even a chunk of a project in the morning, that’s just not realistic because I am not creative in the morning whatsoever. The only time that I can whip out a project is late at night. I don’t know, it’s pitch black and I’m by myself, and I’m just going. Last night, I got here around 8 and was working on a project that was due this morning, and I was here until midnight or one, and that’s the time where I’m cranking out everything – I’m in the zone, there’s no one around me and I get work done. Yeah, it’s challenging because you have a big chunk of your morning where you think you can get work done, but if it’s a complex art project, I can’t, because I don’t do mornings.
I feel like you have to know yourself to know what works for you.
Yeah. First semester I was trying to get everything done early and really try to whip everything out early, and that didn’t work for me. I tried to get everything done, have the evenings to myself and get to bed at a reasonable time, but unfortunately that doesn’t work for me; I have to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to complete something. At least then I can function the next day knowing that I completed so much. If that means I don’t get enough sleep, then that’s how it has to go and I’m fine with that.
You’ve mentioned being creative quite a few times already, what does creativity look like for you?
I follow, I get most my creativity from music and music videos and videos that people make, not photos, which is kind of weird. A couple years ago, I started watching Justin Escalona’s “Daily Docs” every single morning, I would wake up and that would be the first thing that I do. And through him, I found Tyler Johnson, who doesn’t do daily vlogs, but he makes dope videos. Through that I – the way they frame a shot and do cinematics put an image in my head of how I want to shoot a photo, not necessarily a video, but their aspect of what they are shooting is incredible in my opinion. Yeah, I follow photographers and whatnot, but in order for me to come up with a concept I have to be listening to music or like watching a video, which is weird. Most people get inspiration by photos if they’re a photographer. But I get inspiration – Like I got inspiration from watching the “Congratulations” music video by Post Malone –
Like who the hell would’ve thought that would happen? But it’s just a split-second reactionary thing like, “oh, that clip was dope, I want to do something based on what I saw”.
Is it the shot where the confetti is slow-motion?
Literally I remember watching that being like, “shit… that’s amazing”. It’s such a simple music video, but they do it so well.
I just yesterday saw a music video by James Bay that blew my mind.
Really? Which one?
It was “Hold Back the River”.
Okay, I haven’t seen it yet.
The very first shot was a spotlight in the very middle of the room and he was walking into it as the intro hook of the song played, and it just like, blew my mind. It was incredible. Before he even started singing, just that clip.
So how does it transfer from video, like you see a video and you find inspiration in that to transfer to a still image?
I don’t think so.
I don’t know if it’s the best made music video in the world, but it’s really top-notch and super vintage. The beginning of the video, it looked like a VCR thing and it looked like, what do you call those things… choppy, it looked choppy and I saw those lines that were appearing and disappearing as if you were rewinding a VCR. Then I thought, “what if I incorporated something like that into a photo?” Then we were playing with the brushes on Illustrator and I found a brush that looked exactly like the lines I saw but thicker. So I started I brushing with that. At first I thought I was going to do a really harsh red across the image to see what it would look like, and then I started going through pictures I had taken that day and started applying that stroke, and then I shrunk the size and put it over the eyes. I ended up falling in love with and people ask me “why did you do that?” and I literally tell them that I watched that music video and that’s where I got my inspiration.
That’s wild. I share in that, see, the people in the creative world that inspire me most are Rory Kramer and Sam Kolder, both guys that crank out great pictures, yes, but they’re known for their videos and they’re known color grading and things like that. And before, well, maybe not before, but as I was really getting into photos, those were the guys that still to this day push me a lot. Last night I went back and looked at all of Rory’s and Sam’s videos and pictures –
Yeah I share in that with you; I just think it’s cool – I have the perspective that photo and video and music, it’s all art –
And people that can appreciate art for art, and find inspiration in the littlest things, and I’ve even expanded what I think is art in the last few years. I went to a dance show the other night and watched the way that these people could control their bodies and the way that they had so much grace and elegance about what they did. I thought to myself, like, “damn… how can I watch that art and do my art at the same time?” It’s all just super inspirational.
Through my design class, something they’ve introduced is that everything is art. Even these chairs that we’re sitting in, someone designed this; they didn’t just appear out of thin air. Someone went through the full creative process with this. Some people don’t understand that.
Yeah it’s weird, some people don’t – yeah, I totally agree. Um, you mentioned that your dream job is to go on tour, and we’ve talked about this before. But what’s your dream setup? What are you using? Who are you touring with? What does the product look like? Nothing is off limits.
So drea? Hmm, dream job and dream tour would definitely be with G-Eazy as the headliner, just everything he does is phenomenal; his music videos, his production is phenomenal. The small things about him are phenomenal. The way he uses photographer’s images, his Instagram is so crisp and clean. Some rappers’ Instagrams are really grainy and blurry and kind of shitty to be honest, but everything about him is perfect. His website is spot-on perfect. So that’s why I like him. Oh, and his music is dope. So him as the headliner, and I would know video by that time, so I would be cranking out nightly recaps of each show. I would have a – I think I would stick with the camera I have now, because I don’t think equipment really matters all that much in my opinion. The camera I have now is the first DSLR camera I have ever owned, just because I like it so much and I don’t see the need to upgrade it at this point. I would definitely be using my Nikon d3300, and would be shooting the video with a Sony a7s, because, well, why not. Yeah, I’m to buy a Sigma 18-35mm 1.8, so that’s the lens that I would use. Yeah, it would be an all-arena tour. Massive crowds every night, you know, Madison Square Garden, The Oracle, dream tour. I could care less who I’m on the tour with to start off, I just want to be on the road every single day, pushing myself to create as much content as I possibly can at a high level.
Why is it so enticing for you to –
I’ve always been down to travel, just for whatever reason. For family vacations, my parents would ask where I would want to go, and I would tell them I could care less where we go, I just want to go somewhere with people and have fun – Just tell me where we’re going and when we’re leaving and I’ll be there. And I love music so much, so why not combine the two. And why not add photography, which is something I also love. You can’t get much better than that. Not that I don’t like shooting shows in St. Louis, because I have a blast doing that, but I would like to be in a new city every day, shooting a show. Just to be always on the go, with something always to do, it –
It almost, like, forces your creativity a little bit.
It forces you and, like, if you have a two week span where you have a show 13 nights in a row, you have to find a way to make your photos or videos look different each night because no one wants to look at the same thing over and over again.
Even when you’re at the top, even when you’re the best.
Yeah and that’s what is interested about the people I follow on Instagram who do all these tours, they post a picture from freaking New York City one night, and then they’re in San Francisco posting a picture from the same vantage point, but it’s different. I don’t know, it would be a fun way to push yourself to do something different. That would be really awesome to find my balance.
What would you say in the last several months are some of the biggest things you’ve learned? In life, within your craft, whatever it may be, what are some of the big things you’ve learned?
I think you taught me to just do it. The first time we met we went to – well, the first time we met was at a concert, but the first time we actually met-met, we went and shot in downtown Clayton. We went with me, you, Lucas (Winkelmann), Mitch (Hammack) and Nina (Swearingen). All of your guys’s mentalities were like “why not? Just do it.” You taught me, all you guys, you, Lucas, Mitch, Nina, all those people who are in that group chat we have, it’s always just do it. Who cares. Just do it. That’s something that’s pushed me to post a picture on my Instagram every single day. That doesn’t mean I’m shooting every day, it’s just about every other day that I shoot something new. And my mindset in coming up with that was do it. It’s something that pushes me to be creative and I have fun doing it. It forces me to be consistent and get better every day. If you want to do something, you may want to do it now and not wait until it passes by. So yeah, that’s one of the main ones; just get out there and do it. Don’t let anything hold you back from shooting.
Would you say that that hasn’t always been there in the past?
I don’t know. Before college, especially, I wasn’t too confident in the photos I was taking just because I wasn’t shooting on a consistent basis. The first show I shot was Logic and –
Which is crazy if we can just say!
Insane! And it intimidated the shit out of me. So I was in the photo pit the whole time and didn’t move the whole show. Like, Nick Mahar, who shoots on tour for Logic, he was like, I idolized his work, and he was standing right next to me shooting the same show I was. I was super intimidated, I stood in the same spot the entire set, shooting the same pictures. I was extremely hesitant to post those, because you see these photo gods who post these unreal pictures and all of the them are unique and different and here I am, and honestly they were horrible. I think I posted one on my Instagram, and everything was messed up, it was underexposed, the ISO was messed up, and it was just really bad. So the very next day, which is crazy, but I got an email from The Pageant saying that they loved my photos and I was like, “really? Uh, thanks!” You know, I spent all night trying to make them not look like garbage. But then they asked if I wanted to come back that night and shoot again. Just from shooting that first show, my confidence was boosted because I knew what I did wrong, I knew what I needed to do next time. But still, I was new to that and I wasn’t exactly confident in sharing my work because it was only about two months after I really dove in and took it seriously. Coming here and meeting everyone pushes me 20 times more than I’ve ever been pushed to just, like, do it. Just be the best you can be. If it’s a bad image, it’s kind of hard to explain. Before college, wasn’t confident, didn’t shoot consistently. Now, shoot more consistently, have met cool people who share similar passions, and through their knowledge I feel confident in most everything I do. I don’t always think it’s amazing, but I’m comfortable with it, and I think it’s good for where I’m at.
What do you want to crush in 2017? What goals do you have for yourself?
I really want to shoot my first show outside of St. Louis this year. Whether it be swooping up a photo pass for Lollapalooza somehow or it’s, I don’t know, I really want to do something outside of St. Louis just to have that feel. I’m really going to try and get Lollapalooza. Also, I really want to do a lot more stuff where I’m in direct contact with artists. I don’t know if Jake (Wynd) told you, but Jake and I sat down at Starbucks for probably 2-3 hours and just talked about his video, my photo and we sent out mass-emails to management for people saying “we’ll come out for free and shoot your show, we’ll come out for free and shoot your show”. I really want to have direct contact with the artist to directly shoot for them and not a venue. That’s what I’m doing for the Pageant, but I want my work to directly to them so they can give me direct feedback; I want to know what big name artists think about what I’m doing.
Two days ago Jake and I found a few email addresses for Tory Lanez because he’s opening on the Future tour; I emailed all three emails and CC’d Jake on all of them and we literally got a response the next day. Not saying yes or no, but asked for more information, which is huge. Usually you never get responses about anything, so the fact that they responded within a few hours shows that they’re interested, they just want to know more. That really blew my mind. So Jake and I want to do as much as we can together to just further ourselves; Jake wants to tour also. We’re going to work our butts off and see where it can go. Summer is coming up this summer and there’s hella shows this summer and it’s going to be nice to have my mind solely focused on that and not have to worry on school or finishing projects or anything like that; I’ll be able to prioritize that as my number one.
Yeah and it’s kind of cool having that freedom of summer and all the things that get wrapped up in summer. One of the things Jake and I were talking about doing this summer is, whether it’s daily or not, do a daily VLOG just to challenge ourselves and create all the time. I feel like we talk to enough people and do enough stuff to where it’ll be interesting.
And even doing that, you can even take something like photo, and it forces you to explore a city that many people don’t know that many things about.
Yeah that honestly is how it all started with me with Jake and Lucas, what was that, two summer ago I guess? We just decided we wanted to be tourists of our own city and we explored the hell out of St. Louis. We found so many spots, you know, we found our favorite coffee shops, our favorite places to sit, our favorite places to just go and be. That sparked the creative process for us so much and I’m a big believer in that. A lot of people think that in order to be creative and in order to go and do things, you have to move away from here. I think that you have to start somewhere, why not start where you are every single day. Because if you’re just sitting there waiting until you move to L.A., if I you’re sitting there waiting until you move to New York, then you’re going to be doing the same thing when you’re in L.A. and when you’re in New York – you’re going to be waiting. That’s one of my biggest pieces of advice to people; No one is waiting for you to do anything, the world keeps moving on, you have to kind of pave the way –
You have to get it poppin’ yourself.
Exactly and if you’re waiting for someone else to give you inspiration or to tell you that you’re good enough, then like, fuck that, you know?
You have to be your own generator, you have to be your own generator of all that stuff. I’m a big believer in all that.
Based on that, I watched an hour long lecture that G-Eazy gave to a seminar class at Loyola in New Orleans about his college experience and putting himself in a place where he would be successful after college doing music. The thing that still sticks in my mind from two years ago is that college is the perfect time to get going. He used the analogy of a place on a runway. The first three years of college you should be going doing the runway, getting going, so that by that fourth year you’re already flying and on your way. That stuck with me so much because at the time I was a senior in high school, my first three years on the runway are starting, so I gotta get something go. THe first semester here, I honestly didn’t do shit. I mean yeah, I take photos, but once every three or four weeks, and that’s not enough. Then, what’re the odds that I run into Megan Loaney at a concert one night and she’s with you. So I texted her one night and asked for your number, texted you, and now I’m here with all these new friends who are creating all the time – I’m friends with Jake, who wants to do the same thing I do; It’s kind of like a domino effect.
It totally is; It’s like that manifestation thing; You put it out in the universe, you put it out that that’s what you want to do, it’s crazy how things start presenting themselves. Once you enroll other people in what you want to do, yeah, crazy shit.
And it’s hard because you have a style of what you want your stuff to look like, and you’ll get messages from people asking you to take their senior pictures or their engagement, and I would love to, but that’s not what I want to do long-term, so why would I start now? I’m really grateful for the opportunity, but that’s not what I want to do. It’s not really my style, and it’s kind of hard telling people that.
You can get into really wack-ass conversations where I meet with people and ask what they’re looking for and they say “I just want you to do your thing, like, exactly how you do things”. And then I’ll do my thing for however long and I’ll give them the finished product and then they say things like “oh what about this, or what about that?” It’s an interesting place to be in as a creative person when you do have to have those conversations of “hey, what are you looking for?” and if they’re describing something that isn’t authentic to you, even if they’re offering you a decent amount of money, you have to say –
It’s a respectable no.
Exactly, super respectable! And I’m so thankful for the opportunity. One of the things that I’m so thankful for in that group-text is that I’ve sat down with people and told them “hey, I’m not your guy, but here’s three or four people who would slide right in there, who I believe in, who I love their work.” It’s really neat to have that. A lot of people operate out of the place of “if you’re good at doing something, find out the way to generate as much revenue from it as possible”, and I don’t necessarily see it that way.
I don’t either.
I think with what I do I know how to say yes to things and how to say no to things and trust that, again, if you’re on the runway, things are going to continue to come. It may not be the first or second opportunity, but then it’ll be the third.
And back to what you said about the money thing, yeah, I’d love to be making bank doing what I love, but at this point in time, it’s not realistic for me. People look at my Instagram and they see that I post something every single day and people assume that I’m making a lot of money off of this, but that’s not the case. A lot of the times I just hit up one of my friends and we go explore and I’ll take pictures of what I do. At this point, if I start charging people all the time, that’ll stray people away from wanting to go out and explore. I don’t want to put a limit on that. Eventually I’ll have to make money, but at this point I’m a freshman in college, I live with my parents, I have a job, I don’t necessarily see a need to be charging my best friends for pictures.
To some extent you may never.
But if someone asked me to tour, I’d definitely charge them for that because I can’t go on a tour and not get paid. Or I can’t go out of town to shoot your show at your request without getting accommodation or something. Even if they just pay for me to stay, that’s all I really need at this point. You know, my first show out of town, just give me a place to stay and, like, food, and I’ll be cool with that. There’s limits to everything and you have to know them, or create your own.
That’s fair. My last little question that I have is a question that I ask everyone I talk to, and the idea behind it is that I think everyone has a story, and everyone has something that they want to say, but very rarely do they get prompted with the right question. So the question is, is there anything I haven’t asked you that you wish I had? If so, what is that? Or, if you don’t have a question and it’s something you just want to bring to the table, go for it – Open space.
Hmmm, I don’t want to do a PSA or anything. But just from my experience with being into photo and following people and seeing a bunch of different aspects of photo, I’ve seen a lot of people do their own thing and be awesome, and I’ve also seen a lot of people want to do the exact same thing as someone else, thinking they’ll have the same success. I’ve gotten to the point where I could give a shit what anyone thinks about me, or about my work if they’re being negative about it. I just, hmmm, I hate to see people not be themselves to further themselves in what they want to do – like, for the group chat we have, we’re all so different in what we do. Even when we go to the same place and share our work, we’re all so different. That’s what I love. Don’t do exactly what someone else does. Go outside the box. Get inspiration from it and bring it back to your own style. I guess that’s what I’ve learned. Do you, instead of relying on others.
I get it.
That’s not me calling anyone out or anything, I just respect the hell out of people that have an idea and then follow through with it. Like Chris, met him last night. He wants to make VLOGs and he doesn’t have a camera, but he wants to create with what he has – I respect the hell out of that. He has an iPhone, they shoot great video. He has an idea, he’s going to do it with the resources that he has.
Definitely man, thank you. I think that’s a wrap. Killed it.