Q&A: JW Lawson

JW Lawson

Kayla Newman:
When did you first become interested in photography?

JW Lawson:
I picked up a camera in 8th grade, so that would have been 1988. I found a 'Kodak Guide to 35mm Photography' on the school bus. I read it cover to cover and then grabbed my Mom's camera and started playing with the tips and tricks in the book. My mom never grasped how to use the camera, so it became mine.

I became seriously interested in photography later on down the road when I took Architectural Photography as an elective at the University of Tennessee in 1996. I became so interested, in fact, that i began taking all the Fine Art photo classes and eventually dropped out of Architecture School to pursue a Fine Art degree.

Kayla Newman:
And why do you like it?

JW Lawson:
I have always loved the process. I am much more of a process oriented person, so photography as an expressive tool keeps me interested.

Kayla Newman:
Why did you decide to shoot film over digital?

JW Lawson:
I don't think that I actually made that decision. I began with film and I learned how to make my photographs with the film process, so I have always done it. However, my process has included a scanner for my negs for over 10 years now, so I suppose I have been riding the line between film and digital for a while.

These days I use both film and digital cameras, depending on what the subject is or the manner of which I am working. On my recent trip to Memphis I was lucky that I shot both at some locations because I had a film mishap and had to go reshoot a days worth of work. Some of the objects from the day before were gone when I went back.

I prefer film because of how the final image looks. I have been using the same camera and film stock together for some time so I know what the two can do together. There is also a perspective and a stance that I take on with my film camera that makes my photographs look more natural to me. When I work with my digital cameras the images have a different look.

Kayla Newman:
Is it easy for you to find inspiration living in the city?

JW Lawson:
I have a bit of a hard time finding inspiration in Milwaukee, but I think it has more to do with seeing it everyday than Milwaukee itself. That is the reason that I started posting the 'Walking Pictures' on my blog. I wanted to find art in my everyday surroundings. I also wanted to keep the art muscles moving when I wasn't traveling.

I have photographed many cities as I have traveled and have made some good work there. I have more trouble finding a placement of urban photographs in my greater body of work. I understand your question comes from the pastoral nature of my photographs and I will say that I get a deeper inspiration from the country roads. Maybe that is the case because I make a special effort to get into a 'working' mindset and therefore I 'see' more when I am on these roads. I think that 'inspiration' comes and goes wherever I am, the question is will I be able to use it?

©JW Lawson

Kayla Newman: What made you decide to stay in the Midwest/Milwaukee Area?

JW Lawson: I stayed around for a while to pay off some bills until I found my way to Chicago. Eventually, I found myself in a good job that allowed me the freedom to make my art. I then opened a small gallery and a business that catered to the art community. Trying to give back to the Milwaukee art scene as well as the friends and the relationships that I have here have been a good anchor for me to stay. In the end Milwaukee has been a good home base for me to work from.

Kayla Newman: You mentioned on your blog "I seem to find religion quite a lot when I'm working." Have you thought why this might be?

JW Lawson: Well, I think there are several reasons why I find 'religion'. On the surface, a lot of my work is artifice and there are a good many religious icons out there to be seen. Another reason may be the shape of the crosses themselves have always given me security in the lens. Given that the majority of my images have such a strict formal sense to them, the cross just fits nice. A third idea may just be Southern tradition. God is always with us.

Kayla Newman: Would you consider yourself a religious person?

JW Lawson: I am not an actively religious person, but any Southern boy who claims to be without religion is probably lying. I will say that I am truly a spiritual person, especially when I am making my photographs. I like to believe that I find the spirit hidden in the scenes that I walk into when I am working. I always leave touched after I photograph a place, I don't know if it's God's hand or not.

©JW Lawson

Kayla Newman: Do you have some sort of connection with the land or the places that you're taking pictures of, not a childhood connection, but something that goes much deeper?

JW Lawson: Good question! As I get older and I continue to use photography as a tool to have a dialog with my world, I look back on my life quite a bit. This is obvious when looking at my photographs from the South East and my origins there, but I look at deeper connections as well. I think about my childhood and how much of it was spent in the outdoors and how special that was. To be brief, I will say that I am much more comfortable in the midst of the outer American landscape, in the farms and the woods and along the waters, than I am surrounded by the buildings and the people of urbanity. So, I believe that the connection is rooted in my childhood and manifests itself in a comfort with the earth and my want to make art out of the area where man and nature meet halfway.

Kayla Newman: Where would you like to see yourself in the next ten years?

JW Lawson:
I have been wanting to build a cabin/studio on my land in East Tennessee for a long time now. I would like to see myself 10 years from now working from that cabin. I would also want to be teaching photography on a university level and have some gallery representation out there.

©JW Lawson

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