What was your trigger/inspiration for starting photography?

Accident in cahoots with necessity. I'd jacked in my job at the docks and was off on an American road-trip as a baptism for everything life cared to throw at me. Reality was in fast forward, my Doc Martens under duress. So by the time I reached the West Coast I needed a device (of sorts) to help keep track because my neuronal hard-drive had hit overload. I shot snaps of the XL vistas. I was blown away by the searing poverty. I crossed my fingers, gulped and wandered around Watts, Harlem and the Bronx, thinking, 'This isn't right...' I let it engulf me. I let it simmer up into anger and hate.
Once back in Scotland, my dad handed me a proper camera and told me to take it for a spin. My JFK moment. The blood-spatter pattern time's arrow can't reverse. Then followed the freedom of unemployment. Bus trips. A camera in one hand, a cold pie in the other. My perfect day out. And Hoi Polloi as consecration.

What do you hope to communicate/describe with your photography?

One of two things. Or both simultaneously. Sometimes I just want to lose myself, popping pearls in a carefree stream-of-consciousness. Re-enchanting my world in the hopeful hunt for tiny time-diamonds.
But usually I'm geared up for something more. I started shooting during Thatcher's dystopian skull-fuck, so my instinctive drive was towards pictures of working-class life around me. I even harbored a hair-brained idea of being a swashbuckling war photographer. But these days I wonder whether pictures of extremes (like poverty and war) can easily be dismissed as freak blips in their narrative. In which case, maybe it's more undermining to depict the pain within the commonplace. Subversion in a minor key from inside what should be capitalism's comfort zone. It's an economic model that doesn't meet many of our basic psychological needs, so however brave a face we put on it, inevitably the mask sometimes slips, revealing the stigmata of adaptation. On that understanding, my pictures tend to depict (or suggest) themes like alienation, solitude, identity and social dissonance. My tiny Trojan Horse to their Achilles heel.
Pathetic blows. If, in some phantasmagorical demi-monde, I could morph them into something with Marvel menace, they would ram a heel down on the Beast's throat. Hopefully, my intentions are worth the mileage, even if only as self-validation. Honestly, it's all worthless to me unless I can stand face-to-face with the teenage zealot who set off to discover his America and look him in the eye.
Or maybe it's just reverse alchemy. My troubled inner monologue, twisted inside-out and pixelated. My own private schadenfreude playing on repeat in a cathartic chorus. Eschatological eye-candy as leitmotiv.

In any case, you've got to be about something, don't you? That's why I can't suffer all this burlesque shite that seems to be redefining street photography. It couldn't be more inane. It couldn't be less ambitious. A tear runs down the face of photography every time some clown adds to the pile. It's like turning up at a funeral wearing a Hawaii shirt. Philistine, flat-pack photography. Boiled-in-the-bag snapography for dizzy, miscreant fuckwits. 

Harsh histrionics? Maybe. But it seems such a wasted opportunity. Almost a dereliction of duty in the sense that street photographers were once referred to as 'peace correspondents', whereas now they're increasingly more akin to court jesters. It's not funny, it's laughable. Ok, street photography is a broad church with no rules or obligations. But is it just wishful thinking to imagine a global network of street photography watchdogs? A thorn in their side. Maybe.

Has your relationship to photography changed over time? If so, how?

I think I speak for us both when I say time stood still when our eyes met. We bonded instantly, and, with her on my arm, we turned heads wherever we went. 'Platonic' wasn't in our vocabulary, and the world was our lobster. After the honeymoon years, we moved to Paris, and I foolishly assumed this would work further wonders for our relationship. But, sadly, it wasn't so, and infatuation was replaced by irritation. The toe-nail clippings, the bath soap body know the thing. Then followed a long period in which we were estranged by geography, and the relationship languished. But a few years back, a riot re-ignited our flame and, going by her blushes, I reckon I still have a place in her heart. She can be a frustrating companion, and I often feel like slamming the door on us. Until I remind myself that I probably need her more than she needs me.
What next? Maybe the first kiss will be crowned. More probably, her patience will snap and she'll drive off into the distance. Leaving me like a forlorn Jake LaMotta, scolding my own reflection in a self-referential cascade of mirrors. Ruing what might've been. A contender instead of a bum.

Six pictures and your method

Earlier on, I listed a few of my recurring themes, which maybe gave the impression of a very structured approach when, in fact, beyond commonsense planning, my photo walks are intuitive. I suppose personal themes and style are inspired by various factors - our life experience (including the knocks we took growing up), our basic attitude (our adult reaction to the world) as well as other photographers (our influences), etc. So intuition is nonetheless guided by these primal drives - meaning I do have an 'agenda' and don't sit on the fence. When I head out, I try to keep a lid on it all with a mixture of calm, concentration and stoicism. Aiming for a child-like state of curiosity. Last but not least, a catchy '45 in my head as soothing soundtrack and battle anthem. 
I suppose what's fundamental to a photographer is being situation-sensitive and capable of transcribing that visually. Hearing the song of the street - receptive to it's poetry and pain. Inversely, tone-deaf photography is like watching your dad hit the dance floor after a few too many shandies...

What reels me in to a shot varies - a situation, a person, a background, etc. But in the absence of anything concrete, I seek out atmospheric conditions so I at least have one factor on my side. I don't think in terms of 'good/bad' lighting but concentrate on mood and texture instead. I don't overly fixate on the golden hour. Situation-wise, I'm looking for something pregnant with possibility or already energised. The elements that thrill me in the work of other photographers are usually beauty, social substance, emotional depth, artistic singularity and strong mood, so that's pretty much my own shopping list too.

I'm often drawn towards the use of silhouettes, shadow and reflection as I feel paradoxically they convey a richer impression of 'reality'. They've become part of my photographic lexicon. To me, they suggest elements at play beyond the fragile surface tension of appearances as well as articulating my perception of them. Pluri-dimensional. An off-kilter, spastic echo. Like that line from Lost Highway - 'I like to remember things my own way....not necessarily the way they happened'.

Is there a question we haven't asked that you'd like to answer?

Yeah. Anything that would've allowed me to spin on a sixpence and conclude this interview with a devil-may-care flourish of a reply.

You can see more of my work on my website.


Who are you?

My name is Jake Ricker. I'm 30, and I live in San Francisco.

What was the trigger or inspiration that led to your taking up photography?

Ever since I was young, I was always outside skateboarding or riding bikes getting into something. When I was 16, my uncle gave me a Pentax K1000, and a couple of weeks later I started a high school film/darkroom class. So the timing worked out perfect for me to start shooting. So around 2003-2004, I just started bringing it with me and shooting stuff outside of class assignments. Right away I started taking photos of my friends and documenting the weird stuff you see in the normal day to day, which quickly turned into stuff at night doing graffiti. A few years later, I was in a band touring all over the USA with the K1000 and a little digital point and shoot. When I got back, my parents and friends really liked the photos and pushed me to keep going with it. Friends would always ask me for prints or to shoot stuff for them, and I never really stopped.

What do you hope to communicate or describe with your work?

That’s what I'm trying to figure out right now. For the last three years, I've been hanging onto most of my work. I'm currently sitting on over 300 rolls of unseen stuff, and a few hundred more of stuff I've posted a few things from but not to the extent I'd like. For the last two months I've been going over all my work, and I'm starting to plan out what I want to start showing and how I want to show it. Holding onto stuff has always been important to me. I guess that’s the skateboarder in me. I always loved when videos dropped and you got to see all the tricks they had been saving and the music each part was edited to. I feel like you should really go over your work and create a solid unseen series before releasing it to the world. I really can't stand going to an art show and seeing every single thing hanging up that’s been on all over Instagram for a year. I like being surprised and I want to surprise people, a few people, when I can.

Has your relationship with photography changed over time, and if so, how?

Until recently, it's always kind of been the same. As of three months ago, I quit my job to pursue photography full time. For the last nine years, I was a bike messenger in Seattle and San Francisco. Every day I worked, I always had my camera. I was always shooting the stuff that unfolded in front of me from my days in downtown on the bike.

Select 6 of your photos and talk about how they came to be and how they reflect your working methods.

As a bike messenger, I learned the ins and outs of the San Francisco streets while always keeping tabs on the where the foot traffic was and the best times to shoot. While working, I always had a Contax T3 on my messenger bag strap. I shot a lot of stuff from the bike or while pulled over standing over the bike. In my free time, I'd walk around and shoot Mid Market, Tenderloin, Union Square, Financial District, China Town, and Mission. It's something I always did. But in 2016 and 2017, I dedicated a lot more time to it and shot a ton outside of work. I would always hold onto big groups of rolls and develop 60-100 at a time. Eventually I started seeing the patterns in my work and recurring characters and themes in the rolls I'd get back. I started to take notice and explore those types of images I was naturally drawn to.

Where may we see more of your work? (In progress) 

@jake_ricker on Instagram



Lately the photography sphere has been inundated, not with the gazillions of photos everyone is talking about, but with article after article proclaiming that photography is dead/over/irrelevant/trash.

The questionable assumption here is that it was ever alive in the first place, but what puzzles me most is how this status has been defined. And it is about status in the end, because the reasons given for photography’s untimely (or exceedingly timely, depending on the source) demise are invariably centered around the rise of social media, short attention spans, instant sharing and, inevitably, cat pictures.

Yes, you.

Yes, you.

However, in a world where so many photographer bios begin with “I began documenting the meaningful moments of my existence with my iPhone in 2009,” I wonder if some context is missing from this argument. The so-called “life” of photography referred to in these articles arose from the concurrent rise of digital cameras and the Internet in the 2000’s, resulting in an army of technology-minded dudes buying the latest megapixel box they’d seen get a gold star on dpreview so they could make sure every pixel was sharp before Photoshopping the living hell out of it (using the handy Living Hell slider), uploading it to Flickr or 500px and watching the Faves roll in.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating. A bit. Obviously, a few of these people were, and remain, serious photographers with serious work. But the driving force behind this boom, this zombie “life”, was mainly hippishly whitebread men who worked in IT buying rather large cameras and showing their files to each other on rather small screens. Numbers ruled this phase of the game: numbers of faves/likes, numbers of followers, numbers of shots, no matter how awful the photos. One such dude in San Francisco (because of course it was some dude in San Francisco), made his only goal taking a million (completely unremarkable) shots, and he got quite a lot of attention from his considerable fandom.

I can’t remember his name for some reason.

During this time, the dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored for decades before the boom, continued working quietly and being ignored, though a handful got caught up in the storm and propelled to Internet stardom. Magnum, sitting suddenly up in its comfy chair and remembering its illustrious history, returned belatedly to the fore when they realized that their website needed an upgrade; they began changing their reporting and recruitment styles to suit the “life” of this new reality.  Skateboarding also factored in there somehow, because of course any old thing being subjected to rejuvenation must by law involve skateboarding.

I’ma let you finish, Henri, but…

I’ma let you finish, Henri, but…

So for a time, everyone was All About Photography, particularly “street” photography, which is the easiest to practice because it doesn’t require anything in the way of studios, sets, models, lights, conscious thought or, from looking at most of it, talent. Bloggers featured their friends in “The (insert number here)-best photographers RIGHT NOW”-type listicles, some of which became actual books. Publishers pole-vaulted onto this suddenly relevant bandwagon, and groups on Flickr appeared and thrived on the drama of clashes between personalities.

Amid all this, it must be admitted, some photographers did actually get to know about other photographers and enjoy each other’s work. Several collectives emerged from the chaos, e.g. in-Public, Burn My Eye, and Observe. Of course, many others promptly disappeared when they found out that ego clashes are far less entertaining when you’re actually trying to work together in some fashion.

“I’m sick of your excessive use of Photoshop sliders, Larry!”

“I’m sick of your excessive use of Photoshop sliders, Larry!”

But then Facebook and Instagram arrived on the scene, along with decent mobile phone cameras. These burgeoning businesses quickly realized that what the vast majority of people wanted out of all this was not actually photography, but rather that short sharp injection of dopamine that came with simply seeing something new. Clicks, but not those of the shutter variety. Eyeballs, but not through viewfinders or at exhibitions. Photography itself didn’t particularly matter to these industries; it never had. It was a means to an end, which inevitably means an end to the means.

Digital camera performance plateaued as manufacturers tried to make them more like mobile phones, cramming things like wifi, video and touchscreens into their machines and then wondering why nobody was buying their larger, heavier boxes. Computational mobile photography came to the fore, the camera boom waned; the party began to lose steam. Video was supposed to take over, but nobody could figure out the fundamental difference between the two media.

In any case, most people discovered they could get all their ego-driven drama needs from Facebook, and all their dopamine hits from Instagram, effectively severing the connection of conversation and photography that had been the accidentally advantageous side-effect of sites like Flickr, where you could do both, but not with the same rabid intensity. Some people tried to lure young would-be photographers into thinking they could “make it big” through competitions that they could only participate in after paying for the honor of consideration by their illustrious jury of people they’d never heard of. But then the world quickly learned that photography, like the cake, was a lie after it was found that many entrants in these contests were the result of applying a bit too much of the “Asshattery slider” in Photoshop.

The relationship between actual photography and social media was fraying; some would-be serious photographers desperate to hold onto these heady days tried spamming all their contacts about Kickstarter campaigns to fund their photo books. Precious few were any good. But then, truly good photo books have always been 1) few and far between and 2) generally ignored by most people.

And then, photography was dead, lying on the metaphorical sidewalk in a pool of its own metaphorical blood. You read it in an article by some famous Internet person with an impressive-sounding name. And then you read it again. And again. Dead. Over. Kaput.

Help! I’ve fallen out of favor with trendsetting demographics!

Help! I’ve fallen out of favor with trendsetting demographics!

But what died, exactly? The techie crowd had become bored with these particular machines, moving on to newer, shinier gadgets, and young people, like most young people, just wanted to hook up. Nothing wrong with either, and certainly nothing new. The dedicated photographers who had been working quietly and being ignored likewise continued in this fashion, and will keep doing so even while everyone else is using brain implants to beam live VR experiences featuring their cats.



In short, the “death of photography” these articles lament is actually the loss of the veneer of popularity photography momentarily enjoyed when it was caught up in the perfect storm of technological progress and social media. The three were conflated so closely for a time that most people assumed that, when the latter two moved on, photography would be rendered meaningless. But that is a false narrative; the essence of photography hasn’t changed; it has always been, at its core, a small, largely ignored niche. Not something for everyone, nor the grand new universal language once promised to us. Photography’s unique and quirky nature of stopping time and conveying complex emotion in one small frame was one of the things that drew me to it when I was growing up, and it occurs to me that perhaps we should just let it be what it actually is, without all the trappings, the bells and whistles of social trends.

Put your glasses back on, photography. Lose the makeover. Put on those comfortable shoes. And welcome back.

Photography is dead? Good. Long live photography.

By TC Lin