LomoAmigo Jonathan Higbee showcases his latest work using our very own Neptune Convertible Art Lens System. Jonathan is no stranger to the world of street photography. His attention towards those key moments when nobody's looking is what makes his photos so special.
Jonathan, welcome back to the Magazine! You always have such a unique approach to how you shoot, what was your approach for this series?
This series was definitely lead by an exploration of trying to see the world in different focal lengths and figuring out which works best for a particular scene. I typically find a scene or element that I am passionate about and wait and shoot until I get a photograph I'm happy with. But the Neptune System gives a new sense of freedom and portability thanks to the ease in which you can change focal lengths, so the approach for this work was a more classic "photo walk."
In this series you shot the celebration of the Chinese New Year, what about this celebration in New York piques your interest?
The various Lunar New Year festivities are some of my absolute favorite annual events in the city. It's a photographer's paradise for sure, but I think it's really the profusely ebullient and positive celebratory vibe that I'm mostly interested in. The community throws several events over the holiday period, including a firecracker festival (which might be favorite of all). The joyful energy and feeling of community are infectious, which I hope to capture in the tone of the photographs.
Compositionally speaking, did you follow any rules or guidelines as you have in your previous work?
Using the Neptune series of lenses, I was working with several focal lengths that I'm mostly unfamiliar with. A hefty majority of my work over the years has been made with 28mm lenses. The exotic perspectives of the 35, 50 and 85mm Neptune lenses really encouraged me to experiment with the composition and test the limits of the frames. But being able to switch focal lengths so easily thanks to this series kept the composition challenge fresh; as soon as I started becoming too familiar with one lens I'd switch to another without skipping a beat on the street.
How significant do you feel "being in the moment" is for you?
For me, "being in the moment" is the most essential element of making successful photography. To connect with the subject matter, it is vital that I get "out of my head" -- stop worrying about camera settings, or paying the bills, or what I'm going to have for dinner, for example -- and become present in the moment. When I achieve this (it's certainly not an easy feat), I find that I'm finally able to observe the world and anticipate decisive moments in a way that would've been impossible or even just severely limited before.
Working with the Neptune Lens System, what did you like about it?
Not only was it fun, but it was a valuable experience for me; it's rarely so easy to quickly change lenses when outshooting the streets! There are many reasons for this: it's difficult to find an appropriate place to set down your gear safely, and the prevalence of dust and debris swirling in the air make changing lenses a risk. So the Neptune series allowed me to remain in the moment for longer and capture different perspectives in the blink of an eye, practically without losing my stride. It really opened up a whole new kind of shooting street photography.
What camera body and film did you use?
I used a Leica M10 with a Nikon-to-M Mount adapter with the Neptune Series attached. Even though I used an adapter so that I could use the Neptune lenses on my Leica, the entire package was still super compact. Also, the Neptune lenses had folks regularly stopping me to ask what kind of gear I was using -- more than I've ever encountered before, which was a fun experience.
How did the Neptune Lens System affect how you decided to approach this shoot?
The Neptune Art Lens System really allowed me to be a lot more mobile and flexible, and to easily obtain a variety of looks in one photo walk. I usually don't bother with even bringing more than one lens when I go out for a shoot because of how frustrating it is to switch while shooting street photography! The Neptune Lens System opened up new possibilities, and I went I used that freedom to approach the images here.
Also, the ability to change the bokeh patterns that the Neptune System allows unlocked a surge of creativity that I haven't felt in a while. To experiment with the different patterns that come with the system, I thought more deeply about bokeh than I have in years, which was genuinely really fun!
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I'm so fortunate to have a full plate these days and I'm trying not to take anything for granted, so there's an overwhelming amount of stuff coming up in the future. In the near future, there will be a book based on my "Coincidences" series, a museum exhibit (my first), several public speaking gigs, and, hopefully, still some time for shooting the streets! Further down the line, I hope my other photography projects gain as much steam as "Coincidences" has, and that will be a focus after my book is released.
With street photography being an extremely popular subject matter, where do you think it's heading?
I see street photography further diverging from its documentary and photojournalism roots as time moves on. Street photography has been freed from the understandably strict guidelines of photojournalism, and artistic freedom and conceptualism are flourishing. This distinction has been shaping for decades but has really picked up steam in the smartphone age. Street photography is the most democratic art form in my opinion, and as it continues to explode in popularity, I think we'll see even more of an expressionist influence in the genre. I'm beyond excited!
Any advice for those who may be shy or feel like they don't have what it takes for street photography?
I am one of the shyest people you could ever meet, so I completely relate to others who feel that way when they consider shooting street photography. I really dig down deep into the reason I shoot street in the first place (an unbridled urge to share stories about life in New York) and let that passion guide me through the days when I'm feeling particularly insecure.
Also, for most of my adult life, I've dealt with extreme shyness in social situations by placing a camera between me and the source of the anxiety. For example, I would regularly tote a Polaroid camera around parties in Los Angeles. It was kind of like my security blanket: the camera gave me some distance between myself and the strangers I felt compelled to mingle with. It worked wonders, and that concept carries over to street photography.
Finally, don't let anyone tell you what style of street photography you must make to fit in. It's bullocks. You have to do you, and if that means you need to work around and with self-consciousness to make art that doesn't fit the mold, that's completely fine. In fact, you could be on to something special!