Photography by Jake Michaels, Interview by Sarah Wasko
Jake Michaels got into photography as a teenager when his father, a photojournalist, gifted him an old Nikon. Going on to get his degree in art history, Michaels began to understand photography beyond the aesthetic as a process-based medium. Now he works commercially and as a photojournalist. Additionally, he has taken to the streets.
Michaels is doing something revolutionary with the iPhone camera. He’s not taking photos of his food or his face or his #gains; he’s taking photos of other people. In Jokemichaels, his street photography series shot entirely on his iPhone 5, Michaels captures everyday oddities and moments of happenstance. Through his images, your love-hate relationship with humanity is solidified.
How did the Jokemichaels series start and how long has it been growing?
Jokemichaels is an idea I have been working on for several years. It started just as a way for me to get exercise and to practice photography. On my days off I would park my car downtown and walk. Being on the street allowed me to engage with people. Downtown is the perfect environment because it’s one of the only places in LA where a lot of people are actually outside. I became entranced with the characters I would see, my eyes were always searching for the next personality. I like to photograph people who embody their own uniqueness.
Why your iPhone?
I had never been a point-and-shoot kind of person, but the iPhone represented something else to me. I liked the idea of using a camera disguised as a phone. At first I was sneaky about taking phone photos, always pressing the volume button to snap pics. Now I am pretty blatant about it. The iPhone is my favorite camera.
Have you ever refrained from taking a photo? Or do you typically just go for it?
I refrain from taking a photo when it is too sad of a situation. Otherwise, I usually just go for it. This is moot point because people sometimes people think I am taking advantage of people. Sometimes I just put the phone in my pocket and just watch life happen.
Has taking a photograph ever landed you in trouble?
I’ve been detained by Egyptian police, and scolded by Romanian masons. But those are stories for another day. I mostly only get yelled at when I am traveling.
Do you travel often? Favorite spot to shoot?
I travel often. Through photography, I have traveled to places I’ve always wanted to go. To me it really doesn’t matter if I am in Phoenix or rural China, there will always be something interesting to photograph. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Tijuana because it’s just 3 hours from LA and still feels like a world away. Airports are also one my favorites places to shoot.
How many photos do you take on the average day?
I used to have to dump my phone every three days because I would have 4,000 new photos. Now I take about 500 a day. Sometimes I’ll post one or two but I usually don’t show anyone.
There’s an underlying social commentary in some of these photos. Can you talk about that?
I try to portray everyone equally. I tend to stay away from photographing homeless people. I focus so much on downtown LA and Hollywood because they are two of the last places in LA that represent an old, original version of the city. I think we are in the process of eliminating the uniqueness of these places for the good and the bad.
I’m still laughing at the Hooters kid. Can we assume that’s his mom taking the picture?
The funny thing about the hooters kid is his mom is actually on the home screen on the phone. I stood there for a couple seconds after I took the photo and watched the mom desperately try to figure out how to take the photo.
If you had one hour left on Earth, what would you do?
I would like to spend it probably at a big airport like LAX, LHR, or DXB. I think airports are great representations of the world around us.
See more of Michaels photos on his Instagram.