Jack Ludlam: Studio Visit

Photos by Bryan Cavanagh : Words by Joshua Wills

After a quick smoke break, Jack Ludlam welcomed us into his studio, promptly showing off an amazing Persian rug dusted with a proper layer of dirt and mud. Jack’s studio is sparse; it’s a small space with exposed brick that’s been painted white. The studio while small feels uncluttered. Old and new cameras are sprinkled throughout, a flat file doubles as a desk, there is a printer, the objects he's been collecting and photographing over the years along with a few other prized personal possessions organized neatly in vignettes. This is clearly a person that places emphasis on surrounding himself with few things, but things that are all of great value and/or importance.

Completing a quick lap around the studio he circled back to a batch of freshly framed photo prints leaning up against the wall for his upcoming exhibit at Regis University. We talked about the inspiration behind his latest body of work as well as some of the challenges and liberations that come with being part artist and part photographer.


What was the inspiration behind the work for your upcoming show?

I spent time exploring a bunch of concepts, nothing really seemed to spark my interest. I kept revisiting some of my more recent work with the feeling like I wasn’t quite finished.

That's what really led to me being inspired to explore and incorporate a sense of humanity into the still life work I’ve been doing. For this show I wanted to focus not only on the objects that people work with, but also the people themselves. Prior to this body of work, I was really inspired by and focused on capturing objects that makers use to produce tangible goods, things we all consume or benefit from in our daily lives.

I am also photographing hand portraits, all of which will be paired with the name and profession associated with the hands. The basic approach is snapping a portrait at the end of a shift or workday. Every pair of hands is so telling to how each person spends their day. You can tell if they spent their day working with lumber, clay, machinery,etc. all just by looking at their hands.


It’s like a play on the saying that “eyes are the window to the soul”... for makers “the hands are the window into their soul”.


You see all of the grit, cuts and callouses. Makers hands are very telling.


Why the fasciation with hands?

(Laughs… )

In this day and age with everything going digital I think it’s important to observe and in a way honor all those people that work with their hands. They are necessary in every culture and society. There is a much more intimate connection and appreciation for the final product when it’s forged by hand, there are also all of these people living quieter lives that keep us all going. We all drive cars to work everyday but very few of us know how to work on them. People working with their hands are essential.

That is one of the biggest reasons why I make prints. There isn' a lot of photographers making prints anymore. Everything is captured and shared digitally - in a way that image ceases to be a real tangible thing; it’s a file not a photograph.


What did you discover while working with people?

Well it’s been a long time since I’ve worked with people and not just an object. I really like working with objects…  they are obviously a bit easier in regards to managing schedules, being able to reshoot, etc.

That said, after spending some time thinking about people that I know whose hands I assumed would be telling, I came to the realization that there so many people that surround me who are makers, people that work with their hands day-in and day-out.

To be honest the biggest challenge, just like any portrait, was capturing the photograph in a way that it didn’t feel forced. There is definitely an art to letting go and allowing things to happen… getting each person to relax and fall into their regular after work routine.


Did your process evolve at all over the course of making this body of work.

I experimented a lot. I explored shooting everything on black for a while to change things up. But the contrast ended up being too harsh, the nuance in the details I was looking to capture got lost.

In all of my work I try to capture as much detail and character in isolation as possible. By treating each subject I photograph as a specimen, I work to remove noise and clutter that detracts from being able to focus on the raw character of each subject. I see my process and experimentation continuing to evolve in support of that.


How did you fall into photography?

I really loved painting, architectural drawing, pointillism, etc. in highschool. When I was seventeen I started to notice that my hands wouldn’t quit shaking especially when I was working on art pieces. I went to the doctors and they told me that I have a resting tremor, it’s non-degenerative, they attributed it to receiving multiple concussions that were chalked up over years competing in downhill mountain biking as a youth.

As my resting tremor got worse I turned to photography as a way to channel that creative energy into a medium that allowed me to control environments a bit more. When I was younger I used to mess around in the woods shooting wildlife and still-life, I had no idea what I was doing but I always enjoyed it.


That’s really interesting. You’re photography is extremely graphic, now that I think of it, I’m not sure I can name another photographer whose work looks as graphic as yours. I’ve seen a handful of your prints that almost look like hyper-realistic drawings.

Yeah I have a lot of people hit me up after seeing images on instagram asking if they can buy one of my drawings.

The actual style and process itself has been slowly taking shape over the years. It all started by accident while I was studying photography at Regis. I was working on a project for class and accidently over developed some film, I looked over the negatives and there was something about them that struck me. I decided to keep rolling with it and continued to process the film, experimenting with printing using different filters to adjust exposure, contrast, and grain. The images were really sharp with this harsh contrast, the end result was this crazy detailed photo that was also extremely graphic.

In traditional photography world this would definitely be scoffed at, or frowned upon, but again this aesthetic really struck a chord. I continued to experiment with different studio setups, camera rigging, lighting, etc. I also continued to experiment with different methods of processing and printing film, I still do.


Are you able to support yourself with photography fulltime?

At the moment I do. It’s hit or miss, I’ve had awesome months and not so awesome months. You work past it, keep hustling, art in general is a bit brutal when it comes to actually making a living. Photography is especially hard, everyone has these amazing cameras built into their phones, they can add filters and adjust images on the fly. There are literally millions of photos being uploaded on daily basis which contributes to the false perception that everyone is a photographer or that photography is easy. There is a big difference between taking photos and being a photographer. The same is true for every art form I guess.


Do you think social media helps or hurts from your profession?

Honestly a bit of both. Like I said it definitely contributes to the misperception that photography is easy. That said, I’ve definitely seen the positive side of social media in terms of exposure. With a bit of luck and hard work, I’ve been able to develop and refine an aesthetic that’s distinct and has drawn a following. I’ve definitely noticed a more heightened awareness of my work because social media, so in that sense it helps. But I question how much it helps in terms of advancing photography as an artform.


It seems that photography to you is as much an art form as it is a craft. Your very thoughtful in your approach, ground your work in concept, and still leave room for experimentation.

Totally. To be honest I think I’ve only produced two or three technically sound, traditionally good photographs over the years. Meaning photos that one of my professor’s would exclaim, “that’s a really good photograph!". While I personally love more traditional photography and really enjoying viewing it, my end goal or vision for the images I’m working to capture and produce is different. I also think it has a lot to do with the objects and people that I’ve been focused on photographing. There is so much raw character that is inherently there…  it’s almost brutally beautiful.

Honestly a lot of my biggest inspirations come from outside of photography, I look up to a lot of illustrators, painters, designers, tattoo artists… shit even architects. I guess I’ve always approached photography more like an artist.


Who are some the artists that are capturing your attention these days?

I absolutely love Cleon Peterson’s work, the raw brutality and chaos that he is able to capture and portray in this eerily beautiful way just sends me. I got a chance to see a few of his larger murals down in Miami a couple months back, I could’ve stood in front of each piece for hours. Another person whose work I’ve admired for awhile is the tattoo artist Liam Sparkes, his style is very traditional, raw, he uses bold lines, his work is very clean but dramatic... he has a very distinct style. I think there is something to be said when artists are able to create work the is immediately recognizable or identifiable as theirs.

You've definitely managed to capture distention in your work.

Thank you... that means a lot!


Do you collect art yourself?

I do a bit. I’m still a young artist myself, trying to make my way. I collect within my means and also do a fair bit or trades and bartering.

Jack - that you so much for your time brother... best of luck on the upcoming exhibition at Regis and the new adventures down in Pennsylvania.

Thank you guys so much! I wouldn’t have been exposed these great opportunities if it wasn’t for the support from all of you guys at Svper Ordinary and a few other rad people in Denver.  It truly means the world to me.


""THESE HANDS"" new works by Jack Ludlam will be on exhibit at the O'Sullivan Art Gallery located on the Regis University campus from June 7 - July 17, 2016.

Opening Reception : Friday, June 10, 5 - 9 p.m.


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