Artist Q&A: Joshua Jensen-Nagle

For the month of May, Bau-Xi Vancouver is pleased to present an exhibition of Canadian photographer Joshua Jensen-Nagle's acclaimed series Endless Summer. We recently asked the artist about how this ongoing body of work has evolved and what his process looks like behind-the-scenes.

1) This body of work prominently features beach scenes, what inspires your continued exploration of this recurring motif, what qualities do you seek when scouting your next location and what distinguishes the destinations you’ve photographed from one another?

The beach work is inspired from my childhood.  I would spend summers at my grandfather's beach house in Mantoloking, New Jersey and have fond memories jumping waves, surfing with my father and basking in the sun.  Those memories have been the driving force behind the work.   

I try and find interesting locations with dramatic elements.  Every location has its own distinct look and feel.  Whether it's the colour of umbrellas, water and sand, every beach seems to carry its own personality.  If there a reef in the water, or it's a rock versus sand.  All these elements bring together a unique composition.


2) Your practice has evolved through a gradual elevation of the lens, from high-angle shots to bird’s-eye view, what prompted these shifts in perspective and how does your approach and relation to subject matter and composition change as you photograph from varying proximity and new vantage points?

I’ve been photographing beaches for nearly twenty years and I was trying to find a new perspective of the subject which led me to aerial work.  I had found myself climbing cliffs with all of my gear, more often, and now working from a helicopter, my approach has changed drastically.  I have a very limited amount of time to get the image, so I coordinate with the pilot on altitude, speed, distance and maneuvers, which makes everything more challenging. 

3) How has technological advancement in digital photography affected your practice over time? Is this rapid change difficult or challenging to keep up with? What about the potential of this medium do you find exciting or daunting?

Technology has allowed me to transition into shooting aerial work.  It is a challenge, but I waited a while until the technology was more advanced and precise.  It’s exciting because of the possibilities it possesses and it is daunting because it is very expensive.  In my early years, I travelled with a few SX-70 Polaroid cameras and a bunch of film in my backpack.  Now, I have multiple high-end digital cameras, lenses, a gyroscope and a 14ft tripod for the locations I can't source a helicopter in.  Customs takes longer travelling internationally with all of this equipment.

4) Having practiced in the field of contemporary photography for many years now, what continues to be the most challenging aspect of the artistic process for you and what surprises you most when you’re shooting?

The most challenging aspect is the travel. From the outside, it looks fantastic, but when you are doing it for work and lugging a ton of gear in and out of countries with different customs requirements, it is very challenging and often stressful.   Flying across the world to photograph is a gamble when you're not sure the weather will cooperate or if the location is what you expected. You never know what you are going to get until you arrive and that can be frustrating.

5) Besides photography, what else do you get up to on your travels?

When I’m shooting the winter work I get to snowboard which is nice but I’m riding with gear looking for something to photograph. When shooting the beaches I try and get a swim in at the end of the day but I’m usually on the move a lot. My wife travels with me on a lot of shoots, and we get to enjoy some of the local restaurants after long days, or find some fun spots in between driving from beach to beach each day. In Hawaii, we spotted a 5 mile long sandbar in the middle of the ocean from the helicopter.  I shot it, and the next day weather didn't allow for us to get back up to shoot more work. So instead, we drove around the island, found a park with some kayaks for rent, and kayaked out to the sandbar at low-tide. It's moments like this, that makes it all worth it.  Seeing this sandbar from both perspectives was a highlight of mine for that trip.



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