Originally from Houston, TX, architectural photographer and videographer Jonathan H. Jackson has called Austin home for the past 9 years. I talked with him recently about his life, career and inspirations.

Who would you say were your biggest inspirations growing up? 
When I was in 6th grade, at Gregory Lincoln Middle School, I was able to take photography classes that included dark room and camera training. My father was a hobbyist photographer. He taught me the basics and let me use his equipment for the class. This was the beginning of my understanding of photography.

Do you have any influences that inspire your current work? 
Hillman Curtis was a film director and graphic designer. He died in 2012. His book  Making the Invisible Visible had a huge impact on me. It deepened my understanding of the creative process, identifying themes, and the elements of communication through visual arts. Hillman would email with me from time to time and I always considered him a mentor of sorts, even though it was only occasional communication.

Julius Shulman who died in 2009 was the “father” of architectural photography. He certainly did not invent it, but his contribution to mid-century modern architecture is immeasurable. I’ve always studied Julius Shulman’s work through books, online, etc., but a few years ago I had the privilege of seeing a film by Eric Bricker’s called Visual Acoustics.This film was my first exposure to a more real sense of the person Shulman was. He had an amazing personality and was an amazing photographer and artist.

Terry Lickona is a big influence on me today. He is not a photographer or artist, but he has been in charge of Austin City Limits for 36 of the show’s 39 year history. His management of the crew, booking, and all other elements in producing this legendary show has been a hugely educational experience for me. He does not micro manage anyone. He surrounds himself with quality people and trusts that the outcome will reflect that quality.

His ability to recognize talent and encourage the creative process is a main part of why I feel so honored to work with him and the show.

Where did you attend college? 
I spent a few years at Texas Tech, but there was not much of me actually attending classes there, so I went to the University of Houston, which was only a couple of blocks away from my childhood home. I wanted to be a filmmaker and the university did not have a film program. Alternatively I chose photography and graphic design at the school of fine arts.

Did you have any professors that influenced you creatively or otherwise?
Not really. I had a few rivalries in college that motivated me. A few of them were professors.

What breakthroughs (if any) did you experience when deciding on a career in photography/videography? 
My career started in graphic design. My first professional job out of college was at Savage Design in Houston. There I worked as a multimedia artist and developer, but I also did a lot of photography for them, including photographing the firm’s portfolio. Later in running my own design business, I found my clients needed photography to go along with the design projects. I called myself a designer at the time, but I worked as a photographer on a regular basis. Many of my projects were for retail businesses, neighborhood developments, and industry. I became well versed in photographing buildings, homes, and environments. Eventually it became obvious that my strengths were in photography and I decided to focus my work on architectural photography.

Once I did this, I became busier than ever and I’ve never looked back.

Were there any hardships or sacrifices that you had to make to get where you are now? 
The ups and downs of workloads and money flow as a freelancer have been the greatest challenges of the past. Except for one year that I worked as an Art Director for a manufacturer, I have been working as a freelance artist for the last 14 years. Early in my career, there would be times where I had no idea when, or if, money would come in. I remember often noticing my friends who had successful corporate careers involving large salaries, stock options, etc. This would cause doubt in my mind about the career path I had chosen, but the freelancer experience agreed with me overall. I enjoyed taking ownership of the process. In working as a freelancer, I was able to reap the rewards of my work. It did not matter if it was on a smaller scale, it was my own and I could not get enough of that feeling. Eventually the scale of the projects grew, and now I get to work on projects I could only imagine when I began.

Why architecture photography? 
My commercial photography career has always been focused on architecture. Not that it was my favorite thing to photograph, or that I was obsessed with being an architect, but architecture was a subject that I had come to some level of understanding with it. It was just important to me. I never formally studied architecture, but I did have a slightly obsessive interest in the “why?” aspect of design. I have always been interested in the human interaction with design. Whether it would be in graphic and visual elements, environmental, furniture, or architecture, I wanted to know what was the common appeal of design to human nature. My father was an interior designer in Houston and he taught me a bit about drafting plans. From time to time, he would draft plans of a fantasy home he wanted to build. It was never built, but I enjoyed the ever-evolving ideas and plans. I think this idea of influencing one’s environment was what I loved. Now, I think of my work as the opportunity to capture what the architect, interior designer, and their clients have created.

What are your views on the future of videography vs. photography? 
I believe technologys’ advancement will continue to blur the line in the equipment used in photography and videography, but they are two different animals all together. I know photojournalists may have assignments that now involve both videography and photography, but for the commercial photographer or videographer, the approach is totally different. The Chicago Sun laid off their entire photo staff. I think this kind of thing will continue to happen as things change. I don’t think all photographers see the changes as a threat. Once a client asked me if I see the advancement of technology in cameras as a threat to my business. I assume he was implying that if everyone has a great camera, what’s the point of hiring a photographer. I told him the joke of the photographer who goes to a dinner party, he/she meets the host and they say “I love your photographs, you must have an amazing camera.” Later at dinner the host serves dinner and the photographer says, “this food is delicious, you must have an amazing oven.”

What is your favorite piece of equipment that you use? Why? 
I’m not sure that I have a favorite, but I do really enjoy using a ladder with a tall tripod. I think too much architectural photography is done at eye level. I enjoy finding the perspective that helps tell the story.

What has been your most successful career decision so far?
I often think of the moment I decided to send a direct message tweet to one of the Austin City Limits producers asking to shoot a time-lapse of a taping day. They liked the idea and I made a time-lapse of Pearl Jam’s taping (part of Season 35). The resulting video was very popular online, and due to the video’s success in promoting that episode, a role was created for me at ACL. Since then, I have created over 50 videos showing behind-the-scenes at ACL, the opening sequence for seasons 37, 38, and 39, and a “backplate” for every episode. I also help film the interviews and as of right now, I am editing a preview for season 39.

I also volunteered to shoot the AIA homes tour for 2009 and 2010. This was a huge move for me as it introduced myself and my work to many of Austin’s best architects, some of which are still clients.

Who is your dream client? 
I am currently working for my dream client as a videographer. As an architectural photographer, I would love to travel the world and photograph architecture for some type of publication.

What projects are you currently working on? 
At the moment, it’s all video editing. I am working on a video covering the Ride Festival, a music festival in Telluride, CO, a preview of ACL’s season 39, and a sizzle/demo reel for Lickon Vision, which is the company that produces ACL.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? 

Focus on a niche.

Aspiring photographers write me often and ask this question. They will send a link to their portfolio and tell me about their experience and education. I advise them to narrow their portfolio, from their favorite and best images, to the images that represent only the work they want to do. Too often I see aspiring photographers who show wedding and event photography, along with their nature photography, shots from their last vacation, and a few images from a series they did in school, etc. I know they are trying to establish their experience through such a diverse portfolio, but it actually communicates the opposite idea and makes their work seem scattered. If a potential client is searching for a particular type of photographer, they will be more likely to hire the photographer that communicates their expertise through a dedicated portfolio, rather than a portfolio that communicates all the different types of photography.

What is your favorite thing to do in Austin?
I have two daughters ages 7 and 4. Much of my time is spent with my wife and the girls, which is exactly how I like it. We enjoy taking them camping, hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor activities, but since I am answering this question in August, the answer is Deep Eddy. When I have time to myself, I often spend it hanging out with my friends, dirt biking, or playing soccer. I also see a lot of live music.

Twitter - Facebook - Google+