10 Questions for Jason Langer
As one of Portland's best fine art photographers, Jason Langer is always thinking about what to portray next.
In recent years, it's been nudes - men and women - and his photos are displayed through Jan. 30 at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134 N.W. Eighth Ave. It's an interesting subject, he says, because photographers can take any angle.
'There are many ways to depict the nude; you could do it in high fashion, pornographic, impersonal, personal, you can show people's faces or not,' he says. 'It depends on what type of photograph you're making.'
Langer goes for style and nuance. 'My work is fairly traditional,' says Langer, 42, a married father of two who grew up in Ashland and attended the University of Oregon. 'It's not cutting edge, not contemporary. That doesn't mean it's not valid and not pertinent. It is pertinent, but it doesn't smack of the contemporary art scene.'
The Tribune caught up with Langer to discuss his photography:
Tribune: You lived in L.A., Ashland and four years in Israel growing up and went to the U of O - how'd you get your start in photography?
Langer: My best friend and I were housesitting a friend of his mother's (while in high school), and there were Michael Kenna photos on the wall. I turned to photography from his photos, and (the house owner's) sister was married to him. I called (Kenna) up, and I asked, 'Where should I go to school?' He said, 'I'm English, I don't know any schools (here).' I wrote him a postcard with my work on it once a year for four years. And, after I graduated (from UO), I worked with him as an apprentice for five years. He's one of the most popular and prolific photographers in the world, and I was very lucky to get into a traditional apprenticeship program with him.
Tribune: How'd you get your start shooting nudes?
Langer: It started in 1998, when I was primarily focusing on photographing men. This man who is my best friend and an actor introduced me to an actress friend, who turned out to be a good model. I started photographing nude and semi-nude, and it worked out well, and added the feminine work that wasn't present before. Since then, I've taken on the challenge of photographing nude men.
Tribune: What is the difference between shooting nude men and women?
Langer: Photographing women, if it's a beautiful woman, it's almost impossible to make a bad photo. Also, the act of posing is inherently a passive act, which is more easily embodied by a woman. Photographing a man in a passive act, it's easy to photograph him in a feminine way, and it's counterproductive. How do you photograph a man in a masculine way without using big muscles like Herb Ritts would do? Photographing doesn't necessarily mean muscle, especially if he doesn't have any.
Tribune: Has there been any criticism in your work?
Langer: There are all kinds of concerns photographing women - there's the 'male gaze,' sexism and chauvinism in photography, those who criticize men who photograph women believing it's in a misogynous way. It's maybe stereotypical, but is it founded? Other say it's very respectable. It's political, whether (shooting) men or women. You can't avoid it.
Tribune: The 'male gaze' is a problem?
Langer: The male gaze is how men see women, and it's typically something that feminists have a problem with. I might fall into that category, but I'd like to say my images pay as much attention to the psychological views. I'm interested in mannerisms, situated in the space, what space is - all of that has as much importance as what type of body she is.
Tribune: Is it easy to make subjects feel comfortable?
Langer: It's a variety. I've never photographed anyone that's really uncomfortable, or they wouldn't allow it. I've photographed people who aren't experienced, and may need some direction. Others feel very comfortable being photographed nude, and do their own direction.
Tribune: Do you shoot digital images?
Langer: I still shoot film and I have it scanned and make pigment prints at home. I was a darkroom photographer for many years. I was never happy with digital prints.
Tribune: You have galleries in Portland, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, but what else is happening?
Langer: I have an opening in Berlin (this week), and I'm working on a book about Berlin at the moment. I'm continuing to photograph men, and one thing that I've been doing since photographing men and women is (working on) putting them together.
Tribune: How do nudes sell?
Langer: Traditionally, nudes are not that easy to sell. The easiest to sell is landscape.
Tribune: Anything you would like to photograph in Portland?
Langer: I love the merging of the industrial and nature and the residential style. I do really love the nature all around. People have created a style of residency here, and it's still an industrial town - nine bridges, a great train port, the Willamette River is wide and brings ships up and down, great grain elevators. That's very attractive to me, but I haven't tackled it, yet. Traditionally for me, landscape has always felt empty without the presence of people.