Jillian Lochner is one of the most sought after photographers in the world. Known for her immaculate lighting and provocative work, she has made a prominent name for herself over the years photographing campaigns for a long list of reputable clients such as Absolut Vodka, Adidas, Courvoisier, Tank Magazine, GHD, New York Times, Captain Morgan and many more.
Jillian is represented by JK&, an agency led by John Kenney and Ed Varites that works with award-winning photographers and directors who are passionate about their work and artistic vision. Always on the search for unique and talented artists who mesh well with their already established family of photographers, Jillian caught their eye a little over a decade ago. Through her work for fashion brand Black Coffee, JK& saw a photographer who was different – fearless, unique and passionate.
Eleven years later, Jillian continues to evolve and push the traditional limits of commercial photography. The latest incarnation, a new collaborative project with husband and fine artist Andrew Carmichael, takes her work to a new level previously unexplored. Andrew develops concepts, builds sets, invents contraptions and makes props. Jillian brings her years of photographic knowledge to perfecting the photo-aesthetic side of the work both in the studio and in post-production. The resulting images would be equally at home in a gallery space, in a major advertising campaign, or in an editorial context.
We caught up with Jillian and JK& to talk more about this new groundbreaking work, where it’s headed, and what that could mean for the future.
When did you and Andrew Carmichael start working together professionally?
Jillian: We first started working together on an editorial shoot about a year ago. He was with me at the studio when a new set designer turned up with a horrendous thing he had built; the designer hadn’t followed my brief at all or worked to the scale I had asked him to. On the spot Andrew took over and started to draw the set by hand with pencil on the back of the other designer’s flats. Then he just started to arrange some props and bags. I lit and shot the arrangement and instantly I knew we had something special.
How has your way of working evolved since then?
Jillian: Since we began just over a year ago our way of working has become more elaborate; we are making props and sets, working on concepts, and experimenting with non-traditional light sources and translucent materials. His fascination with the extremes of light and dark challenge my usual restricted tonal palette in ways that help create work that is more than just a sum of our joint output.
Tell us a little more about Andrew as an artist and his vision.
Jillian: Andrew trained as an artist in London attending Goldsmiths and the Royal College of Art. He then worked as an artist and exhibited for over 10 years before being side tracked away from creative work into setting up an arts charity and working on regeneration projects.
Light as metaphor, and the recording of it as photography, have always been central to his vision. In an early performance installation piece he used a 4 meter lever to amplify the small movement of the artist’s chest breathing in and out to raise and lower a light bulb, first illuminating and then darkening the gallery space. The lighting of the space on the in-breath, a metaphor for coming into existence, the darkening of the space on the out-breath, a metaphor for taking that existence into the interior of the self, which is of course always eventually extinguished.
As an artist Andrew has also always been intrigued by the rigid logic of light; the way that shadows can appear as seemingly random and confused shapes when they are actually always driven by unbending rules. He often talks about how the logic of light perfectly describes the interaction of light source, subject and projection surface as the image, or the way you cannot change the fact that your shadow is always in front of you when you walk away from the light but behind you when you walk towards it. He often quotes T.S. Elliot pondering on this connection in the tragic lines from The Waste Land:
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
The poet will try and “show you something different” but you know the result will always be the same.
Your collaboration is groundbreaking – merging commercial photography with fine art. Why did you choose to head in this direction?
Jillian: I am not sure that we choose this direction. It just sort of happened! Our starting point has always been making the work that we like. A good example is the work we’ve done for the Italian magazine Amica, with the wonderfully unconventional and energetic stylist Vanessa Giudici. The magazine gives us total freedom to do whatever we want with fashion accessories from high end brands; the more irreverently we treat the objects the more they seem to like it. We love the freedom editorials provide to make images that are not compromised by having to have a set number of products in a particular arrangement. We equally enjoy the challenge of more restricted commercial briefs and the creativity that is born out of constraints.
Your previous work is famous for exploring themes such as the dynamics of sexual relationships and the ambiguous beauty of human form and function. Do these themes also play a role in the new work?
Jillian: The new work with Andrew is very different. We have not used models or the human form directly, but there are some sexual suggestions introduced by distorting bags or altering furniture. I personally can’t resist bringing in a little sexual innuendo, but these days I prefer to make it so subtle that a viewer can’t be sure whether the photographer has put it there or if it’s only there in their mind.
Where do you see this collaboration going in the long-term?
Jillian: In the long-term, we plan to work with some of the agencies and brands we admire most to create memorable campaigns. We are talking to agencies and clients about working on the very early stages of creative projects, collaboratively as “concept vendors” supplying ideas, rather than just image makers brought in at the end of the process. Some of our personal project ideas are being developed into commercial campaigns which you can view through our website, and we are looking for a space where we can exhibit some of the objects and sets as purely art pieces. We are very excited about working together – the ideas are flowing and we bounce them off each other in all sorts of creatively productive ways, and we would like to keep experimenting and find clients who are willing to come along with us for the ride.
Jillian Lochner has been working with her agency, JK& for a little over a decade. Originally drawn to her unique vision, they have continuously supported Jillian’s evolution as an artist throughout the years.
We spoke to JK& briefly to hear more about their role as Jillian heads in this exciting new direction.
When did you begin working with Jillian Lochner? What originally caught your eye about her and her work?
JK&: We first became aware of Jillian’s unique photography when she was living in Cape Town, South Africa. She had just shot a very provocative campaign for a clothing company, Black Coffee, with advertising agency TBWA/ Hunt / Lascaris and we found ourselves wondering who this young South African photographer was making such a bold statement with her photography. Her work at the time was almost on the edge of offensive, explicit, but with a second look you realize it’s not the photograph, it’s how you see it. Jillian’s sharp yet subtle vision, her ability to step out of her comfort zone, never afraid to express what she sees and feels, made her work intriguing. After several conversations on the phone we began our relationship. The challenge for us was how to get her commercial advertising work and find which agencies were going to be willing to take a chance on her amazing talent.
What is your expectation for this type of work and how do you go about promoting someone with such a unique vision and fine art sensibility to commercial clients?
JK&: Jillian is an artist that is constantly evolving; she moved to London shortly after we started working with her and after a period of introspection she abandoned her old work and started in a new direction. We didn’t attempt to mold her photography, nor would we, to fit the general market, rather we promoted her work to those clients that are looking for something different, those clients that see their ad as something more than a marketing tool. They see advertising as representation of their brand, dynamic, powerful, high quality. We put together a new portfolio, not your usual portfolio but large prints that showed her work as art pieces, hired a great young designer to produce a mailer and put her work in AtEdge. It wasn’t long after that the more progressive agencies started working with Jillian. She started shooting ads for TBWA New York, Absolut Vodka, Anomaly, Captain Morgan, The Martin Agency, Manpower, and the New York Times Magazine to name a few.
We are now working on promoting another transition in Jillian’s photographic journey, her collaboration with installation artist Andrew Carmichael. This collaboration takes Jillian’s work to yet another level, which we are very excited to share with the adverting and design community. We are hoping that companies will see the great value of working with these two conceptual artists and elevate the quality of work we see in the market place.
You represent a very impressive list of photographers, such as Gary Land, Dan Escobar, Blaise Hayward, Marc Tule, Bill Cahill, Francesco Tonelli and others. What do you look for in a photographer that you would like to add your roster?
JK&:We look for someone with an artistic vision, whose work expresses their passion. We are an agency that represents photographers and directors. We do not represent makeup artists, stylists, etc. We are a family and we share and talk with each other every day. We focus on what we know best, the photographic image, whether still or in motion. We look for photographers that feel would make a good fit for our family.
Special thanks to Jillian Lochner and JK& for their time to make this interview possible.