Always On The Road: An Interview With Jeff Luker
“I have been living in Portland for about 8 years now, off and on and it does feel like home. It is a great place to come back to after traveling. But I think I am happiest on the road or traveling, it feels kind of second nature to me,” explains Portland-based photographer Jeff Luker. In this interview, Jeff reveals how did photography become a part of his life, as well as how skateboarding influenced his photographic style.
Hey Jeff! Welcome to Lomography Magazine! Since you are always on the road, can you tell us where are you currently situated? What projects are you working on at the moment?
Hello! Well at the moment I am situated in Portland, Oregon. It is the rainy season here and I have a little bit of downtime between projects so I’m trying to catch up on a few things. I have been working on a lot of commercial projects over the winter, but I am formulating ideas for some new personal projects for when the weather breaks. I have a few new exciting projects that I am working to get underway. So I have been doing research, getting inspired and drinking lots of coffee.
How did photography became a part of your life? How old were you when you made your very first photo?
Photography has always been part of my life since I was very young. When I was five or six years old my first camera was a little pocket camera that shot 110 film and used a disposable flash pack. For me, it has always been part of my life even when I was just wandering around taking photos of whatever weird stuff little kids take photos of, animals and action figures and candid photos of my family.
I grew up on a little farm in rural New England, and my mom was super anti-television and this was pre-internet era as well, so my brother and friends and I always had to be creative people to entertain ourselves. My brother was always amazing at drawing but I was pretty bad at it so my form of creating was always photography or video.
As I got older I got into skateboard photos, but I was much more intrigued by the editorial and documentary side of photographing skate culture and my friends. When I was in college I started to understand photography in a different context as far as art and documentary and the canon of photography and making meaning out of work. I was just so fascinated by it all.
With all the traveling you’ve been doing, what feels most like home to you?
I have been living in Portland for about 8 years now, off and on and it does feel like home. It is a great place to come back to after traveling. But I think I am happiest on the road or traveling, it feels kind of second nature to me. And as much as I love being in Portland if I am at my house for too long I start to feel a little crazy and need to go on a trip somewhere. I am fortunate that I get to travel quite a bit for work so it is a nice balance.
You’ve worked with some well-known brands and clients over the past years. What’s the most valuable thing you learned doing this job?
Commercial work is great, I truly love being on set, working with and meeting amazing people. That being said it is a much different environment than when shooting personal work or even editorial, there is a lot of pressure to create a certain amount of perfect images within limited confines and parameters. I think the difference between personal and commercial is that one is “taking” photographs and the other is “making” photographs and there is a difference.
So I have learned a lot of ways over the years to transcribe my personal work and vision into my commercial projects. There are often unforeseen challenges that can happen during the production so you need to have really fast creative solutions but also be present in order to stay true to your original vision for the project.
When did photography stop being a hobby and became a full-time job for you?
It’s funny because it still feels surreal to think photography as my job. I started transitioning away from assisting when I was about 24 or so when people were noticing my work more and now I am 31 so it has been almost seven years I have been surviving as a photographer. I knew after college I wanted to work in either filmmaking or photography as a career in some capacity but I figured I would be an assistant or gaffer or photo editor or something, I never thought being an actual photographer would be my full-time job.
It is very strange to me, and it is a challenging way to make a living because the career path is so undefined and when you are freelance there is no security or stability, sometimes it feels a bit more like being a professional gambler. But I feel fortunate to have made it this far and truly love what I do.
What is your dearest photographic memory?
It is hard to pick one because I think every photograph is an important memory. I think when photographers edit their work they often choose photos that have a strong personal or emotional connection to themselves whether it is the connection to the subject or what they are trying to represent through the photograph on a semiotic level. So for me, I like seeing all my photographs together because it represents spans of time, it is a fascinating way to keep visual memories of your life.
Even when it is a photo for a job, you can still look back and be like, ‘oh I remember what that day was like, who was there, what the weather was like’. But for spontaneous photographs when you are traveling it is the best feeling in the world when something presents itself to you and you capture it, especially if you weren’t even looking for it.
Where were you shooting the “There and Here” project? What made the biggest impression on you while shooting this series?
“There and Here” is an ongoing collection of photographs from the last few years. The project is really a personal visual record for me. I had all these photographs from various travels that I wanted to see together in order to make sense of the last few years. It started as more of a travel journal but I found thematically there was kind of a thread throughout the photographs, its a bit of a meditation on a theme of home and away, places that represent different things to you, there was a lot of time spent in far off locales but also a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest. I like the idea of having a sort of running sketchbook of a project that takes shape over time and you can keep adding to it and editing it down.
What is the next destination you plan on visiting?
I am planning on traveling throughout in the American West over the next few months and then some international trips in the fall. There are so many places I want to visit it can be difficult to prioritize.
What’s a day like in your life when you are not busy working on projects? Do you always have a camera by your side?
The day to day is always different. I wish I could say everyday is just an epic adventure, but some days I am stuck in the mundane tasks of everyday life, doing taxes, cleaning the bathroom, going to the grocery store, etc. or just doing work stuff that is not necessarily taking photos, like editing a project, writing treatments, getting on conference calls or working on planning a trip somewhere.
If I am home in Portland I always try to make time in my week to get out explore stuff and if I am stuck in my studio all day I try to walk around in the late afternoon when the light is nice and take photos if I see something I like. And of course, I always have a camera in my car or in my backpack if I am going somewhere because you never know.