Mining an Image for Inner Turmoil

“In reality, they may all have been bursting with joy inside, but in the narrative I created they were all lamenting something distant that they couldn’t shake.”


It was a phone conversation that started it:

“Yo, is this Jason?”

“Yeah, who is this?”

“This is Jamel Shabazz and I’m blown away right now.”

This exchange between famous NYC-based street photographer Jamel and Jason Shechtman is the direct result of chance, talent and timing. If Jason hadn’t come across a long-forgotten print of his then-proudest photographic moment – a vibrant shot of a kid in the Dominican Republic sitting slightly hunched on a dusty, baby blue BMX bike – and decided to send it to Jamel as a gift, then the aforementioned dialogue might not have happened and Jason’s most recent photographic project might not have come to life.

A serendipitous mix seems to fuel much of Jason’s work. In 2012, the Providence-born artist exhibited a show at AS220 titled The Only Time I’m Here, featuring images exemplifying the idea that moments are inherently fleeting. “It’s kind of a cliché notion,” explains Jason from the dining room of his East Side home, “but they were photos that I got from being in the right place at the right time.” These moments – like when Jason bumped into two of his favorite rappers who allowed him to take their picture, or when he happened upon a quintessential NYC summer street scene with overheated city dwellers cooling off at an open fire hydrant – are interesting in-and-of themselves. But it is Jason’s creative eye and intuition that captures the emotion and overall feeling of an instant in time.

Jason may not be traditionally trained, but his talent for composition and subject matter is undeniable, so much so that Mr. Shabazz was compelled to pick up the phone that fateful day. “He loved the photo,” says Jason, “and we probably spent an hour on the phone that night talking about photography. We would meet up here and there in New York and he would critique my work. He encouraged me and definitely gave me a boost of confidence. He’s a big influence.”

Jason’s latest project works to convey the feeling of a particular place while exploring the emotional dynamics that rage within the people who live there. In Your Hangups Follow You Like Shadows, Jason presents a collection of images taken in Lisbon, Portugal during May of 2014. “The title is a play on words derived from one of the photos in the book,” says Jason. “It’s [an image] of clothes hanging on a clothesline and casting a dark shadow on the wall behind. Most of the photographs in the book are of people alone. I went on a tangent thinking about these people by themselves and that led me to thinking about what was going on inside their heads. I imagined their ‘hang-ups’... the things, people or events that they couldn’t get over.”

The cover of the photobook is literally an invitation into Jason’s interpretation of Lisbon: An elderly woman leans out over a window ledge and, in her frozen form, seems to be deep in thought. The window ledge meets the edge of the cover as a cut-out space framing the window imbuing a unique and innovative design detail. Within the pages of the photobook are other visual details that tell a cohesive story and deliver a glimpse into the heart of Lisbon. “In reality, they may all have been bursting with joy inside,” states Jason, “but in the narrative I created to tie the collection together, they were all lamenting something distant that they couldn’t shake.”

Your Hangups Follow You Like Shadows was released in a limited quantity of 300 in May of this year and was the subject of a recent gallery show in Brooklyn. In November, Jason will bring his show Images of Solitude from Lisbon to the Portugalia Marketplace in Fall River. Attendees will not only be able to enjoy the photos from the book, but will also be invited to take a picture in front of an oversized backdrop of one of the Lisbon landscapes.

Moments are fleeting. But photography allows the chance to immortalize people and places with aspects that provide insight into another world. It’s that very world that is the subject of Jason’s favorite self-shot images: three women dressed in their Sunday finest walking on a dingy Pawtucket street; the sun casting long shadows on pale grey concrete, and with a perfectly framed poster advertising the “Church of God” between two of the women. Chance, timing and talent, indeed.

Jason Shechtman
Your Hangups Follow You Like Shadows