James Jackman’s series of photographs ‘A Warm Reminder’ are exactly that, a subtle hint of what will eventually happen to all of us. Jackman’s documentary photographs taken in Hong Kong are slightly obscure with their varied surroundings, but this adds to the journey, taking us behind the scenes of these funeral parlours.
LS: When did you first become interested in photography?
JJ: In high school I took an AP art course. When I discovered that photographs could be used in the final portfolio that's what got me started. Why take hours to draw when a photograph takes less than a second? I used to think it was laziness. Now I understand it as logic.
LS: There are a couple of your series based in Asia, what brought you to the East?
JJ: In 2010, while studying photography at SCAD, I was among ten students that were selected to work on a book for the college in conjunction with the grand opening of their Hong Kong campus. I went back for another three month stay earlier this year because I missed it so much. Maybe I'll stay for good next time.
LS: When did you first visit Hong Kong and what was your first impression?
JJ: The trip for SCAD was my first time experiencing Hong Kong and my first time in Asia. Hong Kong feels like a more efficient New York. I lived in a place called Gold Coast, which is about an hour bus ride away from the mega-dense city terrain. Riding the bus and subway every day was an incredible experience— to witness a massive transit system that operates so seamlessly with so many people moving in different directions. The mechanics of the city are quite striking and overt. Of course, there is the usual sensory overload inherent in traveling to any big city for the first time. It really felt like I was on the other side of the world.
LS: What was it about the funeral parlours that you were particularly interested in?
JJ: I didn’t know they were funeral parlours at first. I was drawn in by the flower arrangements, just wanting to document these intricately constructed objects. When I checked Google maps to see where I was I noticed that one of the large buildings nearby was a funeral parlour and everything clicked.
Back to the mechanics of the city, each of the seven funeral parlours in Hong Kong is surrounded by a group of supporting businesses; florists, casket-makers, etc. What was so interesting to me was the exposed system, the machine, in operation on the street. It's like opening the hood of a car and seeing the motor. One is able to witness families arriving at the funeral home, flowers whisked back and forth on carts, and hearses making pick-ups. In the United States, the most one really sees is a funeral procession. Everything is more spread out and the volume of business isn't so obvious.
LS: Having been brought up in Hong Kong myself I know how busy it can be, yet your photographs show only hints of people. Was this something that was important when making this series?
JJ: People became less important as the series progressed. The work became more about the representation of the deceased and so not many people appeared in the images. The quietness is important.
LS: You manage to capture the everyday throughout all your series in your own very unique style, when it comes to creating a body of work what’s your formula for choosing each picture for the series?
JJ: Books make sense for my work so I shoot and edit with that in mind. I always consider narrative and how images can communicate with each other. Some of the images in this series could be interpreted much differently without signals from the others.
LS: Your series ends with a poem. This is also the first piece of your own writing we have seen, why did you feel it was important to add it to this particular series?
JJ: I usually dislike writing about my photographs. It corners the viewer into certain thoughts that they may or may not have formulated on their own. However, A Warm Reminder is an incredibly introspective series for me. I started writing a formal statement and ended up liking the feel of my loose notation better. It offers enough information without too much guiding; alludes to something beyond the images.
LS: According to your website you are currently ‘On the road again’ what work will we be seeing next?
JJ: I'm on my way to New York City with a movie camera and a box of film, hopefully you'll be seeing some moving pictures in a few weeks!
A warm reminder,
like a cold shoulder.
four sounds like death.
Seven funeral parlours in all of Hong Kong.
Odd numbers are best.
Cut flowers— a symbol of life,
dedicated to the deceased.
See More of Jackman's work HERE
— Loren Stuart