Photographer Jesse Marlow is based in Melbourne, Australia. Over the last 17 years he has prowled the streets of the city he calls home, searching for moments of surprise and beauty everywhere he looks. He is a long-time member of the renowned collective iN-PUBLiC and the author of numerous books (including the intriguingly titled Don’t Just Tell Them, Show Them). Alexander Strecker reached out to Marlow to find out more about his origins and what drives his passion for photographing in the street:
LC: All (or almost all) of us are street photographers at this point. As in, we all take photos of the world around us on a near constant basis. But what was your “a-ha” moment with street photography—when something clicked and you realized you wanted to take it a little more seriously/deliberately?
JM: When I began at photography school, I was lucky enough to have a really inspiring lecturer (who went on to become my mentor) named Rei Zunde. He showed us the work of Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Koudelka and many others. Part of our class in the first year was to head into the city with a bag of film. These “city walks” were focused on shooting candidly on the busy urban streets. I was instantly hooked. I continued shooting in this style on the streets of Melbourne and have never stopped.
…it’s this uncertainty that I love about street photography.
LC: Do you go out expressly to shoot your work or is it always spur of the moment? Is there a conscious mindset that you embrace or is it a constant, fundamental way of seeing the world?
JM: I have had periods of time where I went out specifically to shoot, but often I found this approach put unnecessary pressure on myself and an expectation to come home with results. Thus, over the last five years or so—as life and my commercial work have become busier—I’ve found the best approach is to simply carry a camera at all times.
With the camera around my neck, I am constantly aware of the forms around me, and on the look out for something that could lead to an interesting shot. This doesn’t mean that I’m constantly finding such moments, however! But it’s this uncertainty that I love about street photography.
LC: Can you talk about your editing/selection process a bit? As your audience, we only ever see the final work that comes out the other side. But what goes in beforehand?
JM: Naturally, there are a lot of images left on the “cutting room floor”—I only show the public what I feel constitutes my strongest work. Over the years, I’ve refined what I’m looking for, and as a result a lot of my editing happens on the street before I’ve even taken the photo.
LC: Perhaps unusually for a contemporary street photographer, you shoot a lot of your work on film. What’s special about the analog process for you?
JM: I’ve always been a film user and I continue using film for a long-term project I’m working on. I really enjoy the suspense that is created between shooting and (the much delayed) seeing of the results. It’s the complete opposite to my commercial practice, which is all shot on digital cameras.
LC: Some people dream of flying to exotic locations which will inspire them to make their work. Much of your photographs are made much closer to home. How do you find continual interest in your familiar surroundings?
JM: Exotic locations have never meant a lot to me photographically. I’m more inspired by the daily grind that most people find themselves in, and looking for something interesting, often small and inconsequential, that can flip the scene into something entirely unexpected. It comes back to keeping an open mind and being constantly aware of my surroundings.
LC: Do you ever tire of taking pictures; do you ever feel like you need a visual break?
JM: I definitely go through periods during which my output slows and isn’t what I feel it should be. I think it’s important to acknowledge this as being part of the creative process and embrace it. It’s often during these periods of reflection that new directions reveal themselves.
—Jesse Marlow, interviewed by Alexander Strecker