Arts & Culture: Jacob Perlmutter

The following is an article that I originally wrote for Dazed Digital

Jacob Perlmutter is a photographer and short film-maker whose most recent project saw him return from a trip to India with a series of images that captured the fantastic and the ordinary everyday events that make up life in this ever shifting country. The images swoop from the isolating and the empty to the frantic, dirty and dangerous, giving as comprehensive a snapshot of Indian life as it is possible to get.

Perlmutter’s first collision with photography was in the aftermath of a tsunami as a teenager where he used his newly learnt skill to try to document the tragedy. It is not surprising that since then his work has become a mixture of art and photojournalism. According to Perlmutter he just photographs the world as he sees it.

OhDearism: Tell us a little about your background and when you knew you wanted to be a photographer
Jacob Perlmutter: I was on holiday with my family in Sri Lanka in December 2004. I’d always made films as a kid, but thought it could be fun to take a stills camera having just discovered Steve McCurry’s work. But nothing ever goes as planned. The first morning of the trip I awoke to the devastation of the tsunami that had hit Galle, the coastal city we were staying in. The 48 hours that followed became my formative introduction to photography – I relied on the camera to capture the events unfolding around me, giving me a purpose during what was a terrifying time. The photos and diary I kept were printed in the school magazine which got a lot of response. I realised the impact photography could have on people and as I developed, found more of an interest in social and reportage.

OD: What made you decide to travel to India for this project?
Jacob Perlmutter: The series of images that I returned with was not the intended product of the trip. Having been to India a few years ago, I returned there to have a break from film-making and spend time just ‘being’. I was also going with a friend and didn’t want to slow him down by taking pictures. However, I began to see the country differently to how I had previously seen it in photographs. India, like America, is so well documented – its people, colours, aromas, the hustle and bustle. All of these things are present, but it’s a big country and I started to see ideas that felt different and so returned with a series which I feel presents a new viewpoint on modern India.

OD: For your project 88 days you came home from America with over 2000 images. Did you do the same this time? How did you approach the daunting task of documenting such a huge and varied country?
Jacob Perlmutter:
Once I had realised my angle, I was able to actually shoot a lot less and photograph only what I found to be fresh, which helps when you’re shooting film! I also found it far more difficult to go unnoticed when shooting. I therefore returned with less material than I had for 88 Days. But I’d had six months directing a film between taking the pictures and looking through the contact sheets, allowing me a new insight when it came to my shot selection. I also found, working for the first time in colour, that editing and ordering the images was a challenge. I always aim for a considered and cohesive story in my photoessays; each image must say something new and lead on from the previous, while developing the journey and moving on to the next.

OD: Which other photographers inspire you?
Jacob Perlmutter:
Robert Frank and Garry Winogrand are at the root of it all for me. Their honesty, awareness, characters, compositions and humour are unbeatable. So many, literally tens of thousands of photographers try to do what they do, every day. And I often see shots that are funny, or have an interesting ‘decisive moment’. But Frank and Winogrand seem to capture humanity in such a powerful, yet effortless way. Life, death, love, heartache, music, poetry.

DD: Is there a difference between the way you approach your photography and the way you approach film-making?
Jacob Perlmutter: With each project I do I feel that I am constantly expanding and learning, pushing my ways of thinking and visual storytelling. I don’t approach a project with an intended medium – rather I find the story or an idea, start exploring it in any way, be it prose, screenwriting, photography and then figure out which mode will work best to tell the story. Essentially I want to tell stories that have heart – my favourite things to see or watch are works where I am lying in bed that night and consider that my ability to see things differently has been expanded.

What do you love most about travel photography?
Jacob Perlmutter: I love not knowing what comes next. I’m obsessed, in fact. And I love the initial period of getting to know my camera again and eventually becoming at one with it and I forget that I’m even taking pictures and it becomes an extension of second-by-second living. That’s when I feel that what I’m doing is truly honest.

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