Interview with Street Photographer Jill Maguire

Jill! How are you? Thanks for doing this. Can you start off by telling us a (brief) story on your background and how you first picked up a camera?

I’ve always liked taking pictures but wasn’t serious about it until well into adulthood. In 2009, I bought a DSLR to take pictures of my dog. From there it was a lot of experimentation until I finally landed on street photography in 2014. When I made the switch, I never looked back.

What is it about Street photography that keeps interested?

I am happiest in urban areas and at events, so even if I don’t shoot well, I try to enjoy wherever I am and eat well in the process. I’m all about the experience. I like to try new places, and those I like, I revisit.

How would you describe your street style or photographs?

I would call it a work in progress. I like color and light, but there’s often a shortage of both in Seattle. I’m still looking for a good project to do in the dead of winter that gets me out of the house consistently.

How has your style or approach changed or evolved since you started shooting?

If anything, my bar is higher, and some days I feel like deleting everything I come home with. Maybe that’s ultimately a good thing, but it does make for a pretty slow Instagram feed. On the other hand, I’ve learned to cut myself some slack, knowing just how hard street photography is.

I know you’re an avid (Dog or animal) lover. Do you try to include animals in your photographs? something that easily catches your eye?

 I love animals–both real and unreal–in street photography. I have an ongoing zoo project, but it’s on hiatus for the summer. I’ll go back in the fall when the clouds return.

The animal theme is intentional or unintentional?

Intentional, for sure. Far from mastered, though. Lots of other photographers are better at it. My Flickr (whatjillsaw) favorites are filled with animals in street photography.

 I notice you shoot a lot at the seattle state fairs or the local Zoo. How does that compare to when you’re shooting out in the street?

At the zoo, I’m looking for similarity between people, animals, and the landscape, so in a way, I know exactly what to look for. My Washington State Fair work evolves each year. I’ve tossed several years of fair shots because as I’ve gotten more experienced, I don’t like my older work. I consider all “out on the street” shooting to be practice for the fair. Occasionally I’ll get a shot that fits into some of the other loose themes that I’ve created semi-formal projects for (like my shots from California), but the OK/random shots don’t tend to do it for me.

This is all complicated by the fact that I am loyal and sentimental about these locations. I’m not interested in traveling to other fairs or zoos. I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

What makes Seattle unique for street photography?

I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle. I’ve finally started to embrace some locations here, but I hate the rain, and traffic is terrible. On the plus side, the summer days are long and chock full of events. In addition, everyone is extremely polite. I’ve never had any problems shooting here.

Whose work do you admire?

I admire photographers who can make Anytown USA look interesting. Besides Stephen Shore and William Eggleston, I’m really into Don Hudson and Sixft Whiterabbit right now.

If you can have one street photographer shoot your wedding who would it be?

Martin Parr, no question. We got married in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, and Parr would’ve been the perfect Vegas photographer.

If you could shoot a particular style of a street photographer who would it be?

My photographic fantasy is to take a summer road trip, Stephen Shore style. I want to stay in cheesy hotels and eat at greasy spoons. I can’t explain why this appeals to me, but it does, much more than traveling somewhere foreign or exotic.

My favorite photo of your is the lucha libre kid with the silver mask. I remember seeing it in our flicker group from our workshop with Jack Simon and was like “WOW”. Could you tell us the story behind that photo?

Why, thanks, Tim! This was shot last year during one of my favorite workshops–a Magnum workshop hosted by Constantine Manos in Los Angeles. I made two wonderful friends that week, and we spent an evening on Olvera street. I saw this boy running around in the mask and couldn’t resist following him. He finally sat still in a sunbeam, but only long enough for one shot. I think being a woman helped me here, since his dad was there and didn’t object.

In your opinion, what makes a photograph work or interesting?

Light, color, and something unexpected. Sometimes 2 out of 3 works.

What goals do you have with your street photography?

My ultimate goal is to have enough shots in a project to make a high-quality book. In the meantime, I have this dream of eventually finding a type of street photography that I’m really good at and that comes easily. I’m convinced this will happen any day now. I just have to keep shooting, and the projects will find me.

Whose workshop do you want to take next?

There are so many great workshops outside the US right now, but logistically the West coast is easiest for me. Coney Island is on my workshop bucket list. I also plan to host a one-person workshop (me) in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire next summer. This is another locale that appeals to me deeply, but my husband thinks I’m crazy.

What have you learned about yourself and/or society from shooting street photography?

Before street photography, I never realized how drawn I was to the hustle and bustle of crowds and urban areas. I’ve also learned how fun and exhilarating it can be to travel alone to workshops. Street photography gives me a way to indulge in both of these.

Currently, is there something you’re having difficulty with in your street photography?

I’m starting to feel like the keepers are like prime numbers–the more you shoot, the less keepers you find over time. This interview caught me at a crossroads. I’m thinking of trying something different (still in the street photography realm). I need to get off my butt and go do it.

I’ll list a few street photographers and describe them or their work in one sentence.

1. Alex Webb

Supernaturally good. Take his and his wife’s workshop if you can. You’ll learn a lot of about sequencing and bookmaking (bring your book collection and they’ll sign them). You’ll be on your own for shooting, though.

2. Martin Parr

My first exposure to flash. I like his sense of humor.

3. Bruce Gilden

Not my style. Too harsh.

 

4. Eric Kim

Nicest person you’ll ever meet. I know he’s polarizing but I’ve learned a lot from him and consider him a good friend. His workshops are as much about connecting with people as they are about photography.

5. Jack Simon

Tied with Eric Kim for nicest person you’ll ever meet. Love his quirky eye, and he’s a great instructor. Highly recommend his workshop in San Francisco. Jack is proof that the best workshops are hosted by locals.

6. Constantine Manos

I’m a huge fan of his color photography and keep a copy of American Color II at work. His workshop in Hollywood last year is one of my favorites. He’ll teach you a lot of rules that you may or may not agree with. I still refer back to my notes from him so he definitely made an impression on me. He’s VERY opinionated about what makes a good photograph. Only take his workshops if you have a similar style.

7. Jesse Marlow  and 8. Aaron Berger

I grouped Jesse and Aaron together because I took a workshop with them both this year and learned a lot from their vastly different shooting styles. They put a lot of effort into giving everyone equal time when shooting. Very approachable, supportive, down-to-earth guys.

9. Henri Cartier Bresson

Required reading, but not a daily inspiration for me. Untouchable.

10. Vivian Maier

Fascinating story. Didn’t we all go through a B&W phase after seeing her work?? She was extremely talented, but I’m also drawn to that era. No wonder it’s impossible to duplicate her style now.

Any personal tips or advice on street photography?

Travel to workshops and make new friends. This has been the best part about street photography for me, more so than any pictures I’ve come home with. Nothing beats going to a new workshop and running into familiar faces (like Tim!)

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Follow and Keep Up with Jill Maguire’s work!

Website: www.whatjillsaw.com

FlickR: www.flickr.com/photos/jillmaguire/

Instagram @whatjillsaw