Photographer Matt Jackisch creates stunning visual masterpieces
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“I first bought a digital camera just to learn how to remove embarrassing photos of myself,” jokes photographer Matt Jackisch in an interview. “Once I understood the basics, I started traveling with one. I really took to the narrative aspect of photography. Matt is the former winner of the Epson International Pano Awards. And of course, it creates stunning panoramic images. So we talked to him about his way of doing things and his creative vision.
Matt Jackisch’s essential gear
“I am far from being a reducer. I don’t have the latest and greatest equipment. I usually find something that works and become very loyal to it. I am using a Nikon D810. Over the years it has been dropped, soaked and overheated and it still performs well. I’m very happy with it, even though he’s stoned. For the lenses I have a Nikkor 14-24mm, a 24-120mm and an 80-400mm. I shoot with a large RRS tripod, which is the only tripod I have owned that withstands the abuse I put on it. I am very hard on my equipment. My day pack is a Lowepro Powder 500AW. My multi-day bag is a Dueter 85L. I edit on an IMac with Lightroom and Photoshop. The chair I spend hours editing on is faux leather with an optional recline. 5 wheels.
Phoblographer: Tell us how you got into photography.
Matt Jackisch: I first picked up a digital camera only to learn how to remove embarrassing photos of myself. First days. Once I understood the basics, I started traveling with one. I really took to the narrative aspect of photography. I photographed everything I witnessed and started to become extremely opportunistic about it. Urban caving in South Korea, exploring abandoned ruins in Tibet, solo camping on the Great Wall of China, my camera was with me everywhere. It became the foundation of my experience. I realized that there was in me a perfectionist, an artist and an adventurer, and photography became the perfect way to explore these aspects of myself.
Phoblographer: What fascinates you about landscape photography?
Matt Jackisch: Human experience becomes this synthetic and manufactured thing. In the midst of all this distraction and noise, nature remains my benchmark for reality. I just want to express aspects of our reality that have largely become too subtle to appreciate or are too complex to convey.
Photographer: Panoramic imagery was super easy and straightforward in the world of film photography. With digital, it’s more laborious. But what was it that really attracted you?
Matt Jackisch: I don’t think it takes a lot of work actually. In most cases, you can plug your shots into Lightroom and the result will be great. Even before that became an option, a little patience in Photoshop would get you there. I am amazed at how easy it is now, assuming no mixing is needed. I wouldn’t say I’m specifically drawn to Panos, but some scenes just need to be conveyed that way and I try to be as adaptive as possible in my thinking process, without meeting a preconceived agenda.
Phoblographer: Your images, due to the panoramic format, look like a large-screen painting. Are you inspired by ancient landscape paintings? What are some of your favorite paintings and artists?
Matt Jackisch: The painter who inspired me a lot is Albert Bierstadt. Not only for his inventive use of bright and dramatic representations of Western landscapes, but for the fact that he was able to exist in these remote and unexplored spaces with relatively primitive survival gear while maintaining a creative mindset. It’s not like they had bug spray, sunscreen, and gore-tex in the 1800s.
Photographer: When it comes to expressing yourself creatively, it seems like panoramic photography can get monotonous. Is it true? If not, what makes it so different?
Matt Jackisch: I think all forms of creative expression can become monotonous. If your creativity lacks vision and direction, it will quickly fall into a habit. Real creativity should be experimental and fun. With panoramic photography in particular, the ideal subject is usually a large landscape. But no large landscape is typical. There is a lot of room for experimentation and originality provided of course that one is willing to explore new areas. However, in the case of last year’s winning image, I chose to go against the grain and express this simple intimate scene as a pano. Like most of my work, it was an experiment. I thought a larger format was the best way to tap into the flow of the scene.
I would also add that with the way photography is shared today – mostly on a phone screen – panoramic photography has become vastly underrated. The main goal of our art being to have some kind of impact, I think it takes a bit of a rebellious nature to ignore this endgame and still craft some beautiful panoramic photographs that probably won’t be seen or shared online.
Phoblographer: How do you think your creative vision has evolved since winning the previous EPSON Pano Award?
Matt Jackisch: My creative vision is directly related to my adaptability and my access to nature. I’ve taken more steps to simplify my daily life to allow for more creative headspace on the pitch. By moving towards minimalism and essentialism, I can be better equipped mentally to be more attentive to the landscape. I have also worked to increase my access to remote terrain by learning to mitigate risk during the winter months in the mountains. Embracing winter has become an important part of my process and is reflected in my most recent work.
Phoblographer: How, if at all, has your creative vision changed during the pandemic?
Matt Jackisch: With the pandemic drastically reducing our mobility, I had to suspend all my international projects. I redefined the priority of my “list” and got extremely familiar with more local landscapes. I feel very lucky to live in a place that still has large wilderness areas nearby. I ended up finding many unexplored areas that still allowed me to think creatively without expectations.
Phoblographer: What’s the best part for you: print, explore, shoot or edit?
Matt Jackisch: The exploratory process is definitely my favorite. Photography has become my way of maintaining a relationship with the unknown and escaping the mental loops we are stuck in. I really enjoy deepening my perspective and awareness by unlocking new areas that my mind can engage in. Finding a forgotten ancient forest or a hidden mountainous landscape, for example. From there the creative process begins and I can decide how to tell her story.
Phoblographer: Looking at your pictures, you are really trying to take the picture. Have you had close calls? For example, have you ever been caught in an avalanche or have you had a big wild cat that wanted to catch you?
Matt Jackisch: Oh sure, lots of close calls. But nothing really bad. I had close encounters with bears on a hike alone and had to chase one out of camp once. I had a backpack full of photography equipment that fell off a cliff. I triggered a mini landslide that almost dropped me into a river. Sleepless nights in winds of 100 km / h. While exploring a snow-covered forest once, a group of large branches snapped above me and crashed all around, missing me by a few inches. I got caught in 20 knot winds in the open sea in a kayak. I sought refuge in an emergency shelter in Iceland during a bad storm that washed out the trail. I was in a motorcycle accident in Indonesia which should have killed me and the driver. Things like that. They usually happen so quickly that it doesn’t even trigger an emotional response. Fear itself is much more damaging.
Phoblographer: You shoot in a wide variety of places. Are you personally more of a mountain, jungle or beach type?
Matt Jackisch: I would say that, like many landscape photographers, I am mostly drawn to the mountains. The vastness and depth of it all has a way of becoming a part of you.
Phoblographer: Some of these photos are taken with long exposures and there is water involved. How do you go about mixing the photos when shooting the panorama to make sure it blends in to look natural? It sounds incredibly laborious.
Matt Jackisch: Fortunately, water in general mixes quite easily. But indeed, some panoramas are extremely laborious. As a perfectionist, I am meticulous in detail and insist on doing these blends by hand, sometimes at 400% zoom. The real challenge comes with a panning which requires a mixture of exposure and / or focus stacking. This may require combining up to a dozen images, all manually to ensure that all shadow / highlight detail is restored and its front-to-back is in focus. I think this process is too intimidating for most photographers, especially if they only intend to share their work online. But if the finished product is a success, it is really very rewarding!
All pictures from Matt Jackisch. Used with permission.