Jack Simpson gets some great street photography with his Fuji cameras
I’ve always had a very strong desire to create… I went on to be a musician, graphic designer, sign painter, and now a professional photographer where I seem to have found my creative calling. Photography has allowed me to create in any setting while allowing me to express myself visually by drawing inspiration from my surroundings and experiences. Photography is fast and efficient: a universal language that allows for an extremely wide range of styles, techniques and approaches – the result is very much like painting, but plays very well with my impatient nature.
Which photographers are your biggest influences?
Jack Simpson: Stephen Shore, Harry Gruyaert, Fred Herzog, Vivian Meier and Saul Leiter
How did they influence who you are and how you create?
Jack Simpson: Street photography has a lot of unwritten rules and these particular photographers (especially color photographers) have played within those loose boundaries that define street photography while simultaneously putting their own creative signatures and experimentations into their work. Each photographer mentioned above has allowed me to learn to think outside the box, while experimenting and working in a way that still suits me as a creator. Most of the photographers mentioned worked with a slower painterly approach instead of a run and gun style used by so many candid street photographers.
How long have you been shooting? How do you think you have evolved since your debut?
Jack Simpson: I’ve been doing street photography consistently and almost daily since 2011. I’ve evolved from quick snapshots and taking pictures of whatever caught my eye, to a much slower, more methodical workflow; identify places beforehand and be very determined with my compositions. I mostly shot on digital cameras with occasional bursts of film and digital photography, preferring the easy workflow of digital.
Tell us about your photographic identity. As a person, you have an identity that basically makes you who you are. Tell us about this person as a photographer.
Jack Simpson: I am a textbook Virgin with great attention to detail. I tend to sort, categorize and keep things neat and tidy and this tendency often carries over to my photography. I have an irresistible attraction to visual anomalies, coincidences, juxtapositions and things that seem out of place in my environment; photography provides a way to bring symmetry and order to the chaotic nature of the street. I also like to look for potential humor or something humorously captured. I would say I have a pretty good sense of humor it was the most comfortable way for me to make friends growing up I was told there was a thread of wit and d humor that ran through my photography.
Tell us about the hardware you use.
Jack Simpson: I used Fuji X-series digital cameras (XT1, XT2 & XT3) for 7 years. They allow me to carry a compact toolbox that draws minimal attention to me and allows manual manipulation of settings without having to access digital menus while working. I primarily shoot with a 35mm focal length because it allows me to incorporate more scene without the field of view being too wide, which complicates my desire for crisp compositions. That said, I’ve turned to more telephoto focal lengths to create even cleaner, less cluttered compositions, and it also allows me to be able to get closer to my subjects without being intrusive with body proximity.
My approach to street photography has been heavily influenced by my wedding photography where I seek to create clean creative compositions with minimal clutter and foreign elements in the frame.
Natural light or artificial light? Why?
Jack Simpson: While my professional work uses an array of artificial light sources, for my street work I am strictly in natural light. I’ve used off-camera flash in the past for candid work, but the workflow is cumbersome and a distraction for me.
Do you feel more like a creator or a documentalist? Why? How does the equipment help you do that?
Jack Simpson: I am a creator; I want each of my photographs to bear my own stamp/signature which I hope will become more distinctive and recognizable over time. With every photograph I produce, I aim to show the viewer something unique; made up of my own mind (with the help of the unpredictability of public spaces) My gear helps me achieve this as the Fuji X-series cameras are extremely easy to use, giving me the ability to edit settings quickly. Being able to manually manipulate the dials and aperture rings allows me to stay present in the moment and doesn’t hinder the creative process.
What goes through your mind when creating images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
Jack Simpson: Mentally, when creating candid street photography, I always try to keep an open mind and trust my instincts – if I hear a commotion or see something that has potential, I gravitate towards it – j ‘ve learned over the years that even the most mundane street corner has the potential to produce beautiful, poetic moments.
It’s very important to be present to find great shots – some scenes play out very predictably, like a walking dog approaching a flock of birds – I know that dog will rush for these birds 9 out of 10 times so my job is to angle my lens for a unique vantage point and pre-compose the shot to make it look good (I believe most street photography fails due to bad relationship between the figure and the ground and that is why I am very attached to finding the right place and waiting.)
The subject of my street work is totally unpredictable, so initially I tend to look for distinctive clean backgrounds that are free distractions. This initial screening provides me with a stage for the unpredictable elements to enter later, i.e. man, bird, vehicle, etc.
Mechanically, I always check my light sources and exposure, putting the sun behind me so my scene and subject are lit. I often experiment, so some days I’ll slow my shutter speed with an ND filter to capture movement. I prefer not to shoot with a shallow depth of field except for night shots. Most often, because California is sunny all year round, I underexpose the highlights to deepen the contrast and mash the shadows to add drama. If I’m dealing with a completely erratic subject like a flock of birds, I’ll switch my camera’s drive to burst mode. Otherwise, I’m in the manual focus area so the shutter is instantaneous without having to seek focus before shooting.
Please tell us about your treatment techniques. Also tell us about how you get your look without Photoshop if you’re comfortable with it.
Jack Simpson: I prefer minimal editing adjustments in Lightroom with basic color correction, contrast and saturation adjustment. I find the visual aesthetic of the digital files rather barren and work with some curve tweaks to achieve a more harmonious tonal balance.
Tell us about the project or portfolio that you are proposing to us.
Jack Simpson: My current portfolio “Streets” (see attached images) is a collection of candid photography focusing on juxtaposition, color and coincidence in public spaces. The urban landscape offers an immense well of poetic possibilities and it is there that I feel the most connected to my creative spirit. I’ve spent the past decade exploring avenues and alleys for artistic moments and capturing unique blends of color and light in frame. If street photography is actually 99% failure, my portfolio celebrates the 1% where all the elements of the street sing in harmony.
What made you want to get into your genre?
Jack Simpson: The spontaneity and unpredictable nature of the street has always drawn me to wait and watch for the next poetic moment. I never cease to be amazed at what the random comings and goings of the street will produce from one minute to the next.
About Jack Simpson
“Former San Francisco City paramedic turned professional photographer, Jack Simpson, has been exploring color, contrast, and coincidence through candid street photography for a decade. His initial interest in street photography began in 2012 and has since paved the way for a transition into a successful career in commercial and artistic wedding photography.
His photography first came to prominence while working as a documentary photographer for a local ambulance provider in San Francisco. His work provided a comprehensive inside look at the metropolitan EMS response behind the yellow tape where news cameras and the general public were banned.
In 2017, a work injury while training at the Fire Academy abruptly ended his aspirations to become a firefighter. It was then that he retired from paramedics and changed careers to full-time wedding and event photography, then later to commercial photography. work which is now heavily influenced by his personal street photography.