Viewfinder: Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson's love of photography started “out of necessity” and a desire to capture his friends riding their BMX bikes. Now he works for several publications, taking pictures in and around his home state of West Virginia.


Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell me a little about your background.

Chris Jackson: I was born and raised in Saint Albans, West Virginia. It is a small town outside of Charleston in Kanawha County. My father worked as a manager for Walker Machinery, which for the most part dealt with supplying trucks, repairs and other large equipment to the coal industry. My mother, when not at home with my brother and I, worked as a secretary for several firms. I graduated high school in 2001 and took some time off to figure out what the hell I wanted to do. Eventually, I enrolled at a small local college as a business major, switched to biology then transferred to West Virginia University in the journalism school.


Bill Grantham, a seventh-generation farmer at Tudor Hall Farm in Middleway, W.Va., in Jefferson County, at his farm.


DY: When and how did you start taking photographs?

CJ: A lot of people will tell you a story of how they were first introduced to photography by a family member giving them some crappy polaroid or their uncle had an old SLR. For me none of that happened. Photography was born to me out of necessity. I first got into making photographs by wanting to document my friends riding BMX. From this came the need to get out of college and find something that didn’t suck to do for a living. I got on at the school’s newspaper as a photojournalist and that is where I started to develop my love for documentary photography.


Jason Sheets, owner of Sheets Welding & Machine Co. in Hagerstown, Maryland, in his garage in May 2014. Sheets was working on 1958 Harley-Davidson Panhand engine for the 2014 Born-Free Motorcycle Show in California.


DY: Where do you live now?

CJ: I have lived all over the state of West Virginia, but I recently moved back to southern West Virginia. More particularly I live in a small town, Fayetteville, which is on the rim of the New River Gorge and next to the famous New River Gorge Bridge. It is often dubbed “the coolest small town” in America and is an outdoor lovers paradise. I moved back here after my wife Christine and I had our daughter, Juniper.


A young man sits on the front of a demolition derby car at the Lawrence County Fair in Ohio.


DY: Tell us a little bit about your approach to photography.

CJ: I’m not sure I have an approach. I work as a staff photographer and a freelancer for publications and wire services so often I already know the subject and location prior to shooting. Like most photographers, I try and get something in my head prior to, say, a portrait shoot. But often it isn’t doable or the location doesn’t always mesh with the idea. I honesty don’t put too much thought into it. I try and keep things timeless and focus on how composition tells the story of the person. You have to know the subject before you take their picture. Being intimate is something you cannot teach and once you gain someone’s trust then you can really show who they are and tell their story without words.


Ali Mohadjer at Aliabaad Farm in Sharpsburg, Washington County, Md. Mohadjer was named the 2014 Washington County Farmer of the year.


DY: How do your personal experiences and point of view influence your photography? Do you think about how you are representing your subjects?!

CJ: I think photography is a whole lot of mimicking other photographers. Not to say originality is dead, but seeing others’ work, especially people you admire, really rubs off and you try and do something similar because the idea is just awesome. I guess a lot of art is this way too. I try and approach things objectively and show who the person is or what they are trying to do or promote. Capturing the essence of someone is the best thing about photography for me.


John Clemons, left, joined Performance Coal 5 months before the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Raleigh County, W.Va.. His father Jerry Bearfield, right, has never wanted him to work the mines. John left the mines at 930 am Monday, April 5, 2010. At 3pm an explosion ripped through the mine John was working at. When asked if he’d go back he said “yes.” There’s nothing else for him to do in the area he said.


DY: Do you consider yourself a “rural” photographer?

I live and shoot in mostly rural settings, but that has been mainly from work and a lifestyle choice. I do have a wealth of urban portfolios. But, I love the rural life. I am a fan of a lot of people documenting the rural lifestyle and it has become rather romanticizing in the sense that the majority of the population in the country now live in cities. I am amazed at the mysteries of how once a booming place is now desolate. I think in the next few decades we will see an exodus from the city back to the rural lifestyle.