Jacques Barbey Talks About Jerome, Photography And a Cat

Jacques Barbey

When we asked four photographers to do what they do best in the quirky, old mining town that is Jerome for September’s When in Jerome, we didn’t know what to expect. Sure, we had some ideas of what they would come back with based on their previous work; but the fact was, we cut them loose with no rules, no guidelines, no helpful hints… NADA.

Well, if you picked up this month’s issue, you know Jacques Barbey, Mark Boisclair, Dawn Kish and Shane McDermott nailed every single frame. We wanted four different perspectives on the same subject and they each delivered in their own way. To learn more about the assignment and what it took to get the “shot,” I spoke with one of our intrepid photographers, Mr. Jacques Barbey.

Below, he talks about a cat, among other things:

When you arrived in town, what was your plan of action?
Discover the town’s mood. The plan, as odd as it sounds, was to let the left brain shoot away for the first hour, then ditch that “know-it-all” attitude at the nearest gift shop. Next, I went on to check out the town for its character — parks, bars, restaurants and landmarks — then I secured a rhythm of shooting outside of each. I walked, played and was open. I looked for a strong anchor shot to communicate a sense of place, then continued to isolate the particulars for mood, character and gesture, and built out from there.

Obviously, you could do whatever you wanted — a departure from most assignments — what was that like, being let off the leash, so to speak?
I was a bit stiff at first, and — believe me — there were a lot of misses. Then it happens as it always does, padding in as quiet as cats’ feet, just like an old Robert Frost poem. But wait. Maybe that’s more to do with the “howness” of it. What’s it like? Maybe the best simile is that feeling in your chest when you’re driving alone on a highway and a favorite song comes on and you turn it up. There, in all that velocity, your heart is held, just so. And you lean into the moment and everything falls away — there as you belt it out through all that glory. It was like that. And for a couple of hours, I was held by it and it was very nice.

You captured several sweet moments between couples, how long did it take you to capture them?
That was grand luck that started with sitting on an empty street bench near a large red door. Actually, it wasn’t so grand, the light was crispy and still overhead. I revisited that empty street bench three times for two hours, hoping for anything (it’s bit like fly-fishing I guess). On my fourth pass, the lovely elderly pair was there throned in all that wisdom. I was giddy. The fair young couple was near to the very end of the day, hence the blue tones sitting on the sidewalk there. The beauty is deep. And, yes, I sort of shook a bit. Image stabilizer? No. Not yet. Each couple patiently endured my awkward introductions and explanations as to why I was pointing a camera at them. I was grateful for their consent and their names. They are lovely and they truly made the day.

Did any image stand out as your absolute favorite?
Yes, but it’s little and quite ordinary and a terribly dull shot. I had just been in town for a bit and was photographing my way down a street, following it well into the residential side of town with homes so still and covered in lace, with lovely gardens kept as they are only in Jerome. I was working a possible picture and thought, “What this frame really needs is a cat…. this sucks.” Discouraged, I turned around and, lo and behold, there was a tabby. I laughed — and bent down and said hello and took the cat’s picture — nowhere near the garden, of course. Yet I took it as a sign — my muse playing her hand — and I only had to receive, to enjoy the moment and ease up. I knew then all was going be OK. Perhaps she was the cat? Who knows, but that’s really my favorite picture: A man on a sidewalk, talking to a cat with a garden behind in the big blue shade of a slow afternoon in Jerome.

Your images appear effortless. How do you do that?
Do they? Thank you. I would love to know, too, and share that with a particular cat.

What challenges did you face and overcome?
Not to make Jerome sentimental — or kitsch. That’s cheap. Shooting anyone who is unaware is sometimes awkward — scratch that, it’s always awkward, for with every decibel of sensitivity already running at a rather high rate, I tend to get lost in my head and get caught in the undertow of another person’s glare and their need for privacy, and so I block up a bit and miss it. Yet despite all that, and to counter it, there is a current that endures, and that’s why photography is such a beautiful art. The medium can catch a glimpse of it and reveal it. To lean into that and find that trace in a landscape, a face, a moment, and watch that swell and crest into a perfect geometry of proportions, all before falling away again, well, that’s a grace.

What do you love about Jerome?
The town has an almost European atmosphere. Couple that with its ruins and you’ll find a bit of romance. It’s quirky, too, like John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, but in this case, land-locked and on a hill with a vista that endures. And yet, the best thing is the light. Cleopatra Hill holds Jerome so. It shelters her in shade, which, starting by mid-afternoon makes the place special, like a big open-air studio with almost northern light. It’s an unusually soft light, for the red cliffs around Sedona create a glow that fills light into that shade, making it almost palpable. To photograph in that light was delicious.

What did you want to come away with? How did you know you got the shots?
Well, not to sound like a Hallmark card, but it’s not every day that one is invited to pull off such an assignment. Given the chance to participate with Mark Boisclair, Dawn Kish and Shane McDermott — well, that raised the bar. I wanted to come away with quality, but I was concerned about delivering something more than just illustrations.  Yet, with regard to knowing, that’s the eternal question, its the mystery. My father teased me once that I’ll watch anything with a light behind it. He’s right, of course — it is all about the light. I guess I’ve taken that as a creed of sorts for photographing and making images. That’s the marker I go by. I know it’s complete if there’s a light behind it. It’s done. It’s whole. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be there tucked away in the simple little moments, as well — it just needs to bear some velocity.

What equipment did you use?
Chloe and The Yehudi. Yes, I know it’s weird, but I give them names. If boats have names why not zoom lenses? These two zoom lenses are by Canon: the 24-75mm 2.8 and the 80 – 210mm. 2.8. Sleek, fast and sweet they be.These attached to two cameras with no motor drives. In the past few years, I’ve lost them. I find people much more relaxed without them, and the swag factor is less eye-catching. Oh, and a simple black walk-around bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag helps, too. In the bag: a speed light flash and a 10-foot sync cord. Tripod and lights back in the Scooby-Doo van if need be.

What kind of camera(s) did you use?
SLRs, Two Canon 5d – mark IIs.

—Kathy Ritchie

Leave a comment

Filed under Photography, Q&A

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s