April 19, 2018

Step Into Spring with Jackie Lee Young

Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Stella Gelardi Malfilatre.

Jackie Lee Young is a photographer living and working in Austin, Texas. Her unique view of the world results in a saturated explosion of rich colors so vibrant you can almost feel the heat reflecting off of her sun-soaked images. On her travels and in her daily life she turns a unique lens on the beauty of everyday objects, sights, and sounds. Her process transforms them into a visual delight for the senses of her own cinematic making. We had a chat with her about her most recent projects, learning how to let color flow through her and into her photographs, and an ongoing obsession with the color red.

When did you first get into photography? Was it always on the cards for you?

I remember buying a bunch of disposable cameras as a teenager and becoming obsessed right away with shooting film. I tried desperately to get into summer school for photography but never could get in, so I decided to make photography a #1 priority for my first semester in college. I majored in English literature and minored in photography. Knowing how to write and shoot has really turned out to be a benefit to my career all these years later. In my daily life as a social media manager, I love spending my time looking at/editing/curating photography too.

Do you have any memories of being a kid that you can see resonate with your work today?

The design of magazine layouts in the 90s inspire me still and resonate with me on a daily basis in my work. I had an entirely analog childhood and I learned to shoot on film. I only started to be comfortable with technology and the internet in the early 2000s. We already had access to it in the late 90s for sure but it wasn’t worth anything to me at that time. Nowadays I still try to shoot on film as much as I can.

You spent much of your youth in Saudi Arabia and Norway – a major contrast geographically. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences there? And how did you land yourself back in Texas?

I was born in Oklahoma, but moved overseas at a young age, repatriating at 18 to Texas. We left America in the early 90s as my parents are teachers took a teaching position in Saudi Arabia – that was a wild trip as preteen. The school system there only went up to 9th Grade and many families sent their kids off to boarding school. My family wanted to stay together so my parents took the job in Stavanger, Norway instead. I moved there at the age of 15 and had nothing but culture shock in the best way possible! The freedom and independence I felt living there were incomparable to anything I’d ever known. I finished high school there and applied to a batch of universities in the United States. I was leaning towards Austin, Texas because at that time my grandmother lived there and I thought it was a great transition back into American life again to be around close family. Sadly she passed away before I arrived in the states and my family moved on to live in Japan – but I chose to stay in Austin, check out the scene, make friends and take start taking photos.

In the present day, your work is a mixture of documentary and commercial work. Wha’s the most interesting project that you’ve worked on so far?

Commercially, I’d say a job I just had during SXSW with Hermés: I shot the space of new dip dye concept they’re trying out in different cities. Basically, it’s an interactive space that is the ceiling to floor custom orange that is set up as a Hermés laundromat. The concept is for the customer to bring in a new or vintage Hermés scarf to a dye expert to have them change the color of it. It was amazing to be chosen for the job based off of my previous work with color. To be recognized at that level feels great! Documentary-wise, if music counts as documenting, I’d say working on the official Pitchfork Music Festival photography team has been one of the most fulfilling projects I’ve done in the past two years. Having 100% full access to capture music in all its facets is the most amazing experience.

What do love most about shooting at festivals? Is it the shows or the people?

SXSW is the best and super exciting to shoot always! I’ve lived in Austin, Texas for almost 18 years and have gone to the festival 17 times. What I love most is the music. Without a doubt, you will always discover your new favorite band. This year I discovered the band CHAI, Sudan Archives, U.S. Girls, Mattiel, and Nilufer Yana. I felt so excited to have had the opportunity to be able to be exposed to this awesome new music, but also to be in such a cool community that embraces SXSW.

You’re lucky to have such a source of inspiration in your own town! Is there another city or location that you are hoping to photograph?

Miami, Miami, Miami! I’ve gone once but only for a very short amount of time. I love the mix of pastels, art deco architecture, body positivity, the tropics, and the heat. To me it feels like a powder pink explosion of positivity there: driving around with the windows open allows the opportunity for all of your senses to be tickled: sights, smells, sounds, it’s all the feels.

Your color palette is pretty broad, but there is always a red thread running through your work. Is this intentional or just something that happens subconsciously?

I am so attracted to the color red not only because of its beauty but also because of how it can affect your psyche. I can “feel” color right away when I enter a space. I sometimes am so affected by it that I get bumps on my arms and have to close my eyes because it can feel overwhelming at the start. I love documenting bright colors consistently whether it be in relation to people, or through interiors or exteriors.

Your work is almost cinematic. It gives an expansive feeling. Have you ever considered directing moving images?

I have considered putting together a string of my daily musings that I make videos of, and I tend to capture small videos all throughout the day as I feel like there is beauty in everything. I tend to make several videos a day as a part of my process of keeping my creative wheels on the go, so to speak.

Is there anything else coming up in the pipeline for you this year?

For now, I’m just working hard on developing my eye and style and skill any chance I get! Even reworking old work, taking on new projects and staying true to myself while making work is really my focus.

See more of Jackie’s Originals on IG: @jackieleeyoung