Jeremy Wade Shockley is a self-taught photographer and award-winning photojournalist based out of Durango and Santa Fe. He won “Best of Show” in Open Shutter Gallery’s annual international juried photography competition this year. Shockley has snapped photos all over the world: He captured the Animas River after the Gold King Mine spill, spent time in South Africa on assignment with the Peace Corps and has been capturing the iconic American West for over a decade. Shockley also spent five years on staff as a photojournalist for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. An exhibit featuring the various competition winners, titled “Exposure,” will be up at Open Shutter Gallery on Main Avenue in Durango until Jan. 14.
What about the American West region inspires you?
Visually, I am drawn to open landscapes, small communities. The West certainly suits that aesthetic. I spent much of my childhood exploring the Four Corners, adventurous by nature, always curious. So much of what I photograph is driven by nostalgia. I feel that if something is documented through words or images, we will be able to hold onto that idea or way of life a bit longer. I guess I am a bit of a romantic, in that sense.
Have you encountered any particular challenges shooting in underdeveloped countries?
Often, the most difficult places to photograph are the most traveled; I like to get off the beaten path. If language barriers seem like a challenge, try a smile and a wave. One of the greatest challenges I had photographing in Namibia was gaining access to the Himba tribe; it required time, some diplomacy and the willingness to simply be a guest in their camp, letting go of any preconceived notions of what each day might bring. Perhaps the only time I have ever sensed real danger as a photographer came while photographing elephants in South Africa’s Hluhluwe–Umfolozi Game Reserve, where visitors are free to drive rural roads throughout the park. We were stopping in the road to photograph a small group of elephants at a safe distance, when suddenly a large bull elephant emerged from the forest in front of us and proceeded to circle our small compact rental car. All I could see were knees and a swinging trunk … and all I could do at that point was shut off the engine and wait. Satisfied that we posed no real threat, he ambled off to join the rest of the herd – we were very lucky!
Do you have any tips for young photographers just starting out, or students who hope to become photojournalists someday?
Photograph what really drives you personally. If the subject matter is something you are passionate about, this excitement will show in your photographs. Be authentic. Embrace using minimal gear, be present! Study the work of photographers who inspire you, teach yourself the craft. The photography of Sam Abell, David Alan Harvey and Alex Webb continues to influence how I see and work. Don’t be afraid to experiment, embrace technology and above all, put yourself out there.
Do you maintain a professional distance from the subjects in your photographs?
I like to build rapport with my subjects whenever possible, even if it is for a few minutes in passing. I think that gaining trust or acceptance on any level will almost always lead to better images. Once my subjects accept that I am there, they become more comfortable and I can photograph uninhibited, as the scene unfolds around me. The more you work within a community, the more trust you gain, and that results in more freedom to pursue intimacy in your work.
Are there any major photography faux pas that you try to avoid?
It’s important for me to avoid stereotypes in my photography, especially when photographing people. I work hard to respect cultural sensitivity – above all else, really – and in doing so, I think that the subjects feel the photographs honor them, their work or their way of life. This sensitivity goes a long way in any culture.
What do you love most about photography as an art form?
I like the idea of documenting a moment in time. Fine art photography is something I always aspire to, but my immediate passion is in storytelling. The images that are most successful in my mind are those “moments” that are captured in a journalistic setting, but have all the aesthetic attributes of a great photograph: dramatic light, color, complexity and framing. Those single images have a life beyond the context of the immediate story – they stand alone, they become art.