Here, Jason discusses his approach to capturing his subjects, and shares some of his thoughts on the two new additions to your national collection…
My portrait practice is firmly focused on authenticity. Because of this, I always pay special attention to a number of factors before, during and after the interaction between me and the subject.
I meet people at locations convenient for them, as that often helps to make the occasion more relaxed and less threatening - more of a meeting between two people, as opposed to a ‘photo shoot’ with the balance of power that might come with that. I predominantly work with natural or available light to make the experience less staged, attempting to capture each person with a documentary mindset. Subjects receive little direction from me, as it’s important for body positions to appear natural and uncontrived; for those subjects who can’t stop posing, I find that their authentic selves can be glimpsed in between those posed moments.
Having some prior ideas on how to represent someone can be useful, but I much prefer to work with each person in the space we find ourselves in - remaining open to chance and the connection between us.
I met Gail Porter on a summer afternoon at one of her favourite London bars. Dark inside, with bright sunshine outside, an alley adjacent to the venue allowed for this chiaroscuro lighting. The light falling on half of her face helped to accentuate the duality of her public persona.
As a model and bubbly TV presenter in the early days of her career, Gail has since faced bankruptcy, homelessness, alopecia, and mental health crises. From the outside, there is a distinction between how she was then, and how she is now. The lighting here plays a part in conveying that, for there’s a softness in the shadows, and a harshness in the light. We can read this portrait from left to right as a timeline - the softness of her early years with the hardship of more recent times. Gail is also a proud Scot and keen martial artist - I feel there is an intensity to her gaze that makes reference to this.
The frames before and after this one were slightly less frontal. This was my preference, as her body position confronts us, forcing us to take notice. After everything she has been through, Gail remains a lovely, warm person - but there is also a toughness, for she is one of life’s survivors. I hope this portrait conveys that.
Mark Bonnar and I met at a location in Central London - I’d already found the nearby cafe and gained permission for us to shoot there. Perhaps, based on his amiable public persona, I felt that a casual meeting place would make for a strong portrait.
Shooting in landscape format, I wanted the portrait to make reference to the location while not being too busy and distracting from Mark as the subject.
After taking some test shots from the left, and then from the right, I eventually settled on this composition. Shooting from the slightly elevated position I chose, Mark was casually slumped in the chair, which, for me, gave the sense of a fleeting glance, and an authentic ‘un-posed’ moment.
As with the portrait of Gail Porter, there is an element of tension within the image which helps to raise questions rather than provide answers. The tension in Gail’s portrait emanates from the lighting as a metaphor for the contrast between her early, and recent public personas. With Mark, that tension comes from the contrast between his casual body position and location, against his penetrating gaze to the camera.
When I look at images after a portrait shoot, my choice of frame often comes down to gut instinct. I ask myself whether things have come together to produce an authentic portrait of the person I met. Although I try to remain objective, it’s hard not to be slightly influenced by the personas of those in the public eye, and our individual perceptions of them. But my intention is always to honestly portray something of the person beneath.