Friday Focus: Jed Bacason and “The lives of fish”

By Christopher Osborne

This week’s Friday Focus looks at the conceptual photography of Filipino photographer Jed Bacason.

Photography has always been a part of Jed Bacason’s life. “My family are prolific takers of pictures. I have been operating a camera from an early age. I knew not to open the back of the camera”. As the oldest in the family, Bacason took many of the family images on a Kodak Instamatic or a Japanese point and shoot camera. These were the days of a free film coming back with the processed image. “We have a lot of photo albums at home”.

Like other teenagers, Jed found himself distracted by PlayStations and motorbikes. It was when he moved to Manila, that he felt an unconscious desire to document everything. He started shooting on a Yashica FX3 SLR and on a Seagull TLR. He found the waist level viewfinder life-changing. “Everything looks very different”. I asked why he didn’t carry on using the family camera. “I never had a connection with the point and shoot apart from family moments. I was after control of the image”.

Our conversation flows to Daido Moriami, who is surely one of the masters of point and shoot photography? “Maybe that’s his language? It doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t see the need to go that far”, retorts Bacason. “I love the fine details that a director like Akira Kurosawa brings to the picture”. I want everyone to look at it and see the details and not just get an emotional response. To see what the photo holds”.

The “Lives of Fish” project was conceived after Jed read an article questioning “Was There a Civilization on Earth Before Humans”? If the human civilisation died out, in another two million years would another civilisation know that we have been here?

He set out to question human beliefs, constructs and everything that we have invented. And his work considers the possibility that the human race is doomed to die out. His images represent power, faith, love, social class and death itself.

Family trips into the desert involved mother and daughter walking and playing together while Father created and shot scenes exploring human attributes with a Hasselblad and for the most part dead fish.

“I grew up listening to stories. I like reading books and stories. In the same vein, I like telling stories too” explains Bacason.

Bacason trained as an investigative journalist, and there is no doubt that this experience heavily influences his photography. “I’m into the narrative. That’s why I like shooting photo series. I like telling a story. To do this properly I need to develop a connection between images”.

All of the ideas for series are serious. I make a wish list of the photos I am going to take. I come up with a new idea every two or three days. A week later, I kill most of them”.

I ask for an example, and Bacason starts describing a project that he is mulling over. It involves making a series of portraits about people who are struggling to survive the pandemic by any means. At the moment the project is marinating and Bacason’s mind is racing. “Do I ask them to take their masks off? Or do I let them keep them on? How do I show inferred social distancing? Do I make portraits on the street or where they live, or somewhere else that acknowledges their environment? Do I shoot the whole thing now while there is still Covid, or would it be stronger if I shot it afterwards”?

“I want to tell a story of survival and hope. How do I represent each person’s story? And, will the audience be able to figure it out”?

“I have seen similar stories on the internet. So, I want to make a story that is more beautiful, more profound”, continues Bacason. “Before I start shooting, I need to make the project ready”.

Bacason describes himself as a perpetually frustrated photographer. “I have all of these ideas, but not enough time to turn them into reality. I have to feed my family”.

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