INTERVIEW // JASON M. PETERSON

You can look at only 2 of Jason's photos and understand his point of view. A well executed black and white photo goes a long way and that's what the idea Jason has built his body of work with. Reveling the starkness of an environment, Jason has the power to clearly illustrate his subject in heroic displays that make you wish the world actually looked that cool in real life.


Jason is one of the biggest photographers on Instagram. His views on the readiness and opportunity of new media has shaped his career not only as a photographer but with his long standing career in advertising. In 2018 Jason started his own creative ad agency that is built on the idea that you don't need much to make something amazing.. His disdain for the industry drives his motivation to show you that you don't need to travel down the path that has been traveled a million times before.


How's everything. How's everything been a past few months.

I think there's an overall blanket, that's the same for every single person, that the world is fucking insane right now. My wife and I have taken the lockdown super serious, I think like most people work and photography definitely took a little bit of a pause but I've been shooting and making stuff.


So I'm a photographer, but then I'm also a creative director and I have my own advertising agency that's kind of based on my photography and social media. If you have an idea, you can just make it, it doesn't cost anything.


We launched it about a year and a half ago. It's going really well. We don't have as much new business rolling it and we sort of have to hustle it up. But the model of it is going really well, traditional ad agencies and other people aren't making shit. And we're still shooting stuff every day. Things are a lot worse for a lot of other people, so I can't complain.


Totally. I think as terrible it is right now, I feel like there's a lot to be grateful for at the same time.

Yeah, for sure. That's probably a good reset and see what comes out of it. But because of past, the world got super aggressive, I've decided that this is the new normal. Rather than going, "I can't wait for things to go back to normal" I don't think shit's ever going back to how it was.


Yeah, totally. especially the social uprising. I think this mentality of heavy pushing for equality is also a new normal.

Without a doubt, I think the crazy thing is that's been there for ever, our world's been needing to be fucking readjustment for a long time. I was just talking with one of the creative directors who works for me. we're just like all about that, we always have been. I've run big agencies before and they're full of shit, they're fucking sexist and racist and fucked up, When we started our company, the basis was no matter what, half the people who work here are female and half the people are people of color and you deal with it.


What would you say is the main goal that you want to achieve most with the agency?

The biggest thing I want to do is create an entirely new operation system for a business called advertising. People are like "Advertising has gotta be like blah blah blah" No the way you old fucks have done it is gonna die. Advertising's like the oldest profession in the world, It's like a caveman drawing. look at this, this is cool by this, do this, buy this.


So that's why for a client like Adidas, they want to do an ad, a video. It's going to run on Facebook for like a couple of hours during this moment when something is happening. It takes an agency fucking six weeks and $150,000 and all the favors in the world to do it. And I'm like, this is insane. We can turn around in our studio and shoot it on our cameras.,our drones, edit it on our phones and computers and be done with it. So I set our model up is it's all about efficiency but the creative quality is number one.



Totally. I think a bunch of industries are plagued with this weird conservative traditionalism, because if it works it works right?.But you think at a company that comes up with ideas for you could probably come up with a way better ways to operate

Yeah. I mean photography is the same way. I'm old, dude. I've been doing this a long time probably 30 something years. Some of my best friends are big traditional commercial, editorial photographers, and they're fucked. They go "God, I got this fucking Nike job, in the past it would been like $350,000, three weeks of time and shooting and I hold rights. But now, they've got $90,000 and no time. And they want all the rights and blah, blah." And I'm like, it's $90,000! If I put $90,000 in cash in front of you, there's an issue if you can't make a fucking shit load of money on $90,000.


Would it been better if it was 300,000? Yes. But it's not, how are you going to deliver on it? How are you going to change your model? What if you do 20 of those jobs at a time? Theses are traditions and I think experience is the worst fucking thing in the world.


"...I can teach you something in 30 seconds, but I cant unteach you a lifetimes worth of bullshit."

But yeah I totally agree. People and companies just waste so much money. I used to work at this camera store. They’d sell like the highest end film production equipment and cameras and shit like that. I'd look at some of the work that our customers would make after they just spent like a hundred grand on whatever. And I've seen thousands of videos on Youtube that are x10 cooler, made by a 20 something year old with a DSLR and Adobe Premiere.

And that's the fucking truth. That's honestly why I said, fuck it, I'm quitting my high paying fucking job. And I'm going to start this myself because I can't lie anymore. It makes me feel gross, these people are full of shit and it's not fun. You're squashing this whole other world of creativity that is going on through social media, mobile photography, fucking drones, it's about how clever can you be? How smart can you be? How creative can you be? Cause like tools don't matter. 


But don't get me wrong my style and the way I shoot is really technical. As a kid I would always go and shoot stuff, but it wasn't perfect. So I always had to perfect it in the dark room. I'd be like printing all my own shit, developing, dodging and burning, double exposures.


A funny story, the last photo I posted, actually my wife and I stopped outside of Toledo. Some trees. I was all set. I got my camera, I got Leica and my ultra wide lens and I was like, ah it's okay. The sky is really kind of blowing out. It loses some of the detail, it was a difficult lighting situation because you're in the base of these trees. So you're super dark shooting onto that, up into like a overexposed rainy sky. And so I'm doing my best. I'm covering a couple of brackets.


But then pulled out my iPhone and it looks a million times better. 



I think that a lot of people who call themselves photographers would hate to hear that. 

This traditional ego shit is the main reason why it took 25 years for me to even call myself a photographer because I hated photographers. I thought they were elitist. They would hide behind the equipment.


How big of an importance do you place on your equipment? 

I kind of rose up and was popular on Instagram. So I was like the iPhone iPhone, and I definitely shot a lot in my iPhone, but I would say it's like now it's probably like one out of like every 20 shots that I would publish somewhere will be shot on my iPhone. So if I'm going to go and I'm like, Oh, I'm going to go to this concert. I'm not shooting it on my iPhone. it's about convenience.


Totally. Yeah. That, that goes with like, what's the famous quote, like the best camera is the one you have on you. 

Yeah. And it's like a little bit of a corny quote, but it's totally fucking true. 



When did you get your first camera? 

I started shooting really for photography class. I needed some art elective. and needed a camera and you know, I didn't grow up with means and didn't have a lot of money or anything. My mother remarried and my stepfather had a Pentax camera that he let me borrow and use for photo class. So that was the first camera I ever had.


What else were you into as a kid?

I was really in the music, like I was a punk rock kid, so I was like really big on mid eighties, American hardcore. I was playing in bands, promoting shows and I designed a lot of flyers. And then I just started doing the photography thing cause I could shoot photos and use them for the flyers. I wouldn't do well on assignments, but I did well on my own photography. 


Cause I think I kind of initially came out with like a point of view or a style that I was comfortable at shooting. I could show people photos that I shot back in the nineties and the look the same as what I'm shooting now. It's the only thing I can do, which is funny.


People are like, "Do you ever shoot color photos?" 

Do you ever shoot color photos?

I've tried. I'm just not good at it. I don't see it that way. The composition's fucked up and I don't know how to grade a photo in color really. If i shoot something in color, I just don't feel this is totally rad or feel a emotional connection to it.


Yeah there's honestly not many things as timeless as a high contrast black and white photo.

There's like a starkness to it, you're exposing the emotion. I don’t mean to sound too smart about it.


"You gotta just feel it,  it feels so fucking rad"

Definitely music is like a big thing for me. which is like real life DIY, like anything's fucking possible. You know what I mean? Like some of my favorite bands were just my friends who picked up a guitar and started playing. So I always had that rawness to my photos.


The punk scene is just like nothing but DIY, I feel like many people who were into things like that, skating, punk music, graffiti etc. have this extreme self motivation and ability to make something out of nothing. Which ends up following you through the rest of your life.

People always say I want to be successful and blah, blah, blah make money. It never enters into my head.

"To me money is the least important reason why I'm doing something, I'm doing this because I have to get it out"

With exception, most of your photography is based around urban settings and structures, do you ever see yourself removing yourself from that and thriving in different settings?

I actually love to do it. It’s about locality and where I'm at, I live in Chicago and lived in New York city for 20 years. But whenever I travel, I really do like to go and shoot. People are like, “God, I wish I lived in a big city and shoot stuff like you” I'm like, fuck dude. I wish I lived in the middle of nowhere. 


The grass is always greener, right?

"Yeah, when I travel I really kind of attack an environment and figure out what my point of view is."

I did this shot of this horse that was in the middle of this field in this crazy snow storm. it's definitely not like my other photos, but it is like my other photos. I've never shot really horses or nature and that sort.





Relating that to black and white photography, it lends itself as a tool of continuity to your body of work. it removes, it removes you kind of from location and time. 

Yeah. Time and location. That's what I always loved about black and white, you don't know when it was shot.

I've heard you talk before about waiting for the perfect moment for a photo, What would you say is like the ratio of you trying to wait  it out versus shooting spontaneously. 

I think it's probably honestly like 50, 50, I get an idea in my head before I shoot anything. I've been riding bikes a lot this summer, so every other day my wife I ride past this one silhouette I always see. I literally have it burned in my head exactly the image I want, but I haven't stopped to shoot it yet. 


I sorta focused on setting up situations, I got that from advertising where it's a necessity, But a lot of times I love shooting natural light and natural moments and sort of seeing these things that happen, that if I didn't capture it, you wouldn't see it.


People go “Oh my god, you must Photoshop those people in there.”


"No, I sat there and waited til nobody was there and the one little guy or the one girl was walking through and that moment happened. I made some truth."

I just sat there. As soon as I saw it and felt that. then, okay, I can leave now. But up until that, I couldn't leave. And even though I had some good photos already, I didn't have that photo I saw,. I didn't have that moment. 


I have no issue with re-touching or Photoshop or whatever you do. I'm telling you I did all that same stuff in the darkroom, it's not about that at all. It’'s about what you are left with? What do you have? What did you create?

At the end of the day, if what you're looking at is what you're looking at, does it really matter what the process was?

I don't think it does at all. I don't like fake looking stuff, but really it’s what are you left with and what does it make you feel like? It's easy to dissect art and be critical, but it's just like, do you like it or not? 


Do you take criticism well?

I’ll ask a friend, hey, what do you think of this thing? I'll ask my wife all the time, Do you like it.? And she gives me her opinion and here's what she thinks and ill think about it.


"If other people are critical of my stuff, I can be a real dick. It's because I take it so personal. "

Even if people “Yeah, the things good.” I go, what does that mean?? Cause I really love this and it’s really personal to me. Like when someone comments #Photoshop or something. I'm like to fuck you dude. 


Strikes a nerve.. 

Yeah, it does with me. So it's like, I don't know. It's almost immediate, like, okay, blocked. I don't need you. 


Sometimes stubbornness is exactly what you need though. 

Yeah and its like where is criticism coming from? Like Kanye has that line is like “Never trust people that are less successful than you”. That always plays in my head. 

Do you see yourself ever moving to any sort of different medium or like telling your story in a different way and some other art form? 

Yeah, I think that's a great question,  I consider myself to be a creative person more so than a photographer. Because I love music and have shot a bunch of musicians, I thought to myself that I wanted to make a music video. So three years ago I made my first music video and I've done like seven or eight of them since.


I really love going to see plays and I would really love to create a theatrical set. So actually, I want to art direct a play. I want to do a set design and all that sort of stuff. Definitely one of the things I want to try to do. 


I did this music video last year for this Chicago kid, HappyBirthdayCalvin. I made it all out of these theatrical sets. I wanted to test it out, see what it look like and experiment with stuff. So I did this music video, so like that's definitely something I'd really, really like to do.. I have kind of a short attention span, so we'll see if this actually happens, but I really would like to do a movie. like a full length movie.


Cooking to me is pretty much exactly the same as photography. It's like I enter the same mental head space where I kind of almost blackout and I'm just focused on creating or making something. 


Being like a punk kid growing up, do you find any similarities to all these young rappers you shoot? I feel like there's a lot of the same energy in rap music today that there is in punk music.

Sure, yeah. So I have a 20 year old son and he’s heavy into rap/. And he's the one who said that to me early on. He said that that energy is the same thing when I was a kid doing my thing. And it was absolutely right. Exact same kind of like an angst and rage. It just comes off in different forms. So I love that shit like it's kinda fucking nuts. Especially with like stage diving and moshing and shit, that's my DNA



Check out more of Jason’s Work //

Instagram // @jasonmpeterson

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