DPP Home Profiles Jake Chessum: Keeping It Light

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jake Chessum: Keeping It Light

Jake Chessum photographs celebrities and global power brokers with unexpected twists to their very public personas

This Article Features Photo Zoom

For celebrity portraiture, it’s all about capturing iconic personalities in new and exciting ways. Saturday Night Live’s latest generation of comedians keeps it goofy for photographer Jake Chessum’s Polaroid series.

The key to British-born, New York-based Jake Chessum’s photographic success is his people skills. It’s his ability to tap into his subject’s personality and evoke expressions that, when converted into a photographic image, render spectacular results. Chessum figures out ways to give the viewer a different take on well-known people, often with a bit of playfulness mixed in.

DPP: What brought you over to the States from Britain?

Jake Chessum: I’m from South London, from Croydon. I worked in London for nine years, then moved to New York in 1999. Before that, I came out in 1993 to shoot Ice Cube for The Face in South Central L.A. Then I came out the following spring to photograph the Beastie Boys. It was back and forth, back and forth. When the magazine George started up in 1995, creative director Matt Berman got me to come out and start shooting regularly for them. He had gone through every magazine and found people he was interested in and found me in London through my editorial work. I was here in the States all the time, so it started getting ridiculous to stay based in London. My wife and I talked about it, and we took the plunge. I have a 500-square-foot office and rent studio space when I need it.

Ewan McGregor
DPP: You’ve recently joined Art Department, one of the premiere photo agencies in the country. How does your photographic vision fit into the world of advertising?

Chessum: They have a strong and diverse roster, and the agents there are very collaborative with the photographers they represent. I’m not sure if there’s a direct correlation between my celebrity portraits and advertising, but I have a scrapbook that’s my main portfolio and a book on rubbish and a couple of look books that show a broad range of work that art directors seem to respond to. I think they respond to the diversity of imagery and the diversity of the subject matter, and apply that to their projects. It seems strange because I know that a lot of campaigns come directly from a preexisting shot that’s then applied to a product.

DPP: Your portraits of people for a SAP campaign does show your ability to work with everyday people and get something interesting out of them in an advertising context.
I love meeting people and getting them to do what’s needed to fulfill the needs of a client’s project.
Chessum: That does encapsulate my strength of dealing with people and getting them to do something, whether it’s an expression, behaving naturally, or to do something physically somewhat crazy. I love meeting people and getting them to do what’s needed to fulfill the needs of a client’s project.


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