Taking inspiration from Ryan McGinley, this photographer lets his work talk for itself through deep concepts and vivid imagery
Approaching a concept through photography can be flawed with a lack of execution or a failure to decipher towards some kind of point. Manchester-based Jonathan Flanders avoids these mistakes through his careful application of thoroughly researched subject matters and skill of capturing the precise sense of occasion that his work takes on. Flanders suggests that there is a midpoint between a staged and natural exposure that gives the ideal moment and setting to capture. Speaking to Flanders, it is clear he prefers to let his imagery immerse within itself rather than to interfere too much. Although this may be the case, it's perhaps a subconcious reaction that the filmmaker inside him sets the scene and we see the end product of his work becoming somewhat cinematic.
Dazed Digital: It seems when looking at your work, that you constantly seek to push the boundaries on subject matters that some may stray away from or feel too uncomfortable to approach - is it safe to assume this and if so explain why?
Jonathan Flanders: Not always, its mainly just from where I draw my inspiration. Of course photographs based on Columbine may lead you to think this, but I also did a shoot based on the bullies from The Simpsons which formed a completely different element in my latest series Boys II Men. Its simple really, the essence of the person im focusing on and sharing with you is a lonely guy growing up. I use my photos to expose myself in ways I cannot in reality. And the rest of the time it's just about adventure.
DD: As a film-maker and photographer, do you find a particular medium more expressive than the other?
Jonathan Flanders: Film is great but my loyalties lie with a single image. It leaves more for the imagination and people make it their own based on emotional response. I usually find I can put a lot more feeling and life into my photos because I think so much of the person they are being as well as themselves, its collaborative and I hope it shows the intimate relationship I have with each person I photograph.
DD: Do you prefer spontaneous or themed photography - why?
Jonathan Flanders: I take spontaneous snapshots all the time. But these aren’t my work, they are simply a record that often inspire the photographs I create. I look at them for feeling and direction and then try to apply that to a person I choose, a location, image and character. I set up the world to an extent and then my subjects actions become spontaneous. I don't like to control to much what they do or how they do it. I give minimal direction, unless theres something I'm sure I really want it to be. But often I find the best images come from somewhere in-between.
DD: Can you describe the concept behind your latest film The American Dream?
Jonathan Flanders: I focused on one of the guys who was a shooter in the Columbine massacre. And just to make it clear I wasn't trying to glorify his actions but to understand it by exploring his world and was pretty fascinated to how he go to that stage. At the essence of his story I found that he was really desperate, a manic depressive and seemed a little led on. This doesn’t justify what he did obviously but its really interesting. The film is just short sequences that are moving images, kind of like photographs that you can see a bit before and bit after the main shot.
DD: Whose body of work do you draw inspiration from?
Jonathan Flanders: Ryan McGinley. He’s like my mentor/big brother and has been really amazing to me and taught me so much. Iv’e been assisting him on various projects for over 2 years now and its been sweet since his body of work is my favorite. I always loved his road trip images and the fantasy of it all so I applied for an internship when I was 19 in my first year at University. Went to New York for an interview and about a month later I got an email saying come back and work for the summer. So I moved into this really shitty attic style apartment in Bed Stuy with a bunch of my friends and we shared an air bed. It was the best summer ever! And after that Ryan just keeps having me back or flying me to Paris or Amsterdam for openings and photo shoots and I even got to go on one of the infamous Road trips last year. So Ryan and everybody I have met through him are all really special to me.
DD: Tell us about the series of group exhibitions entitled FAMILY in Manchester... - (the nature of family, what work you had on display, other artists work, is there anymore shows etc)
Jonathan Flanders: It was started by DR.ME, two of my best friends in Manchester when somebody offered them a basement space at a bar in town. They asked everybody to be involved and we all know each other and hang out so it made sense. Everybody did a bunch of work for the first show and it was a really fun night that we all just hung out at. And then we did the 2nd show at Centro and had a few more people involved and a lot more people showed up. Springfield vs Shelbyville played really good music and made everybody weed brownies. The point is just to show people our work, theres no agenda or theme really, everybody just does what they want.
We cancelled the last one really short notice as we have bigger plans install. We are currently organizing a really big space that we can keep open for a couple of months, getting more people involved and giving more people the chance to see it whenever. So watch this space.
DD: Do you have anything planned to do with your photography and film?
Jonathan Flanders: The American Dream film might be getting shown at a film festival in Paris in September which is pretty exiting. And im currently working on a new project that is completely different than anything I have ever done before, its a bit of a secret but involves a shit load of toilet paper and a self published book.