Last November, when everyone else was busy baking banana bread and practicing TikTok dances, Jason Lee packed up his cameras and went on another photo road trip with his friend and fellow photographer Raymond Molinar. This time the destination was a little island on the gulf coast of Texas. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Galveston Historical Foundation Jason was invited to document the town of Galveston on film and capture the sort of melancholic beauty, he has done so uniquely with many other places across the US.
We talked with Jason about his new book Galveston which is now available for preorder.
Hi Jason, welcome to the Lomography Magazine! Can you please briefly introduce yourself to our community in your own words?
Thank you! I’m a skateboarder, photographer, and actor. I live in Los Angeles and have been making photographs for 19 years now.
Your last book In the Gold Dust Rush only came out last year and you're already done with your next one. Are you one of those artists, who became incredibly productive during the Lockdown in 2020? Can you tell us a little bit about how you experienced this past year creatively and if/how it affected your work?
The lockdown was as strange for me as I suppose it was for everyone. But I tried to make good use of my time. I did manage to take a few photo road trips—one of them to Galveston—but I was mostly at home working on photo book projects. I have to be busy or I go a bit nutty. And so having the few book projects that I had was nice because we were able to do all the work from home.
Can you tell us the story of how the Galveston series came to be?
Galveston Historical Foundation had seen my book A PLAIN VIEW, which contains a selection of Texas photographs I made in 2017 and published in 2018. They were drawn to the pictures and thought it might be nice to have me on the island to make pictures for a book to be published on the occasion of the foundation’s sesquicentennial this summer. Was happy to have accepted the offer, as I’d never been to Galveston. I had a wonderful experience.
What was it that interested you about this commission the most and convinced you to take it?
I’ve seen so much of Texas and love it dearly. For A PLAIN VIEW I covered about 5000 miles of Texas but never made it far enough south to meet Galveston. And so I was curious about what it was and thought by being on the island and making pictures that it might make for a bit of an extension of the mainland Texas photographs before it.
The Galveston Historical Foundation invited you to document the town, even though or maybe because you had never been there before. Did you take time to become familiar with the town and its atmosphere or did you start shooting right away with a fresh eye? How do you think familiarity – or the lack thereof – affects your work?
I prefer photographing from as spontaneous a place as possible. And despite having done minor research about the island, anywhere new that we travel to will always feel fresh, and there are always parts of a place that you might not expect to see. And being that I love to explore an area or town as thoroughly as I can, there’s always a variety of presentations to be discovered.
While In the Gold Dust Rush was all black-and-white photos, you chose to mix in some color photos for Galveston. What was your setup for this series and how do you decide on what film stock and camera to use for each project?
I knew that I wanted to use 4x5 color film as I had done for A PLAIN VIEW, but that I also wanted to do some roaming by foot with my Leica M6 and black-and-white film and have some looseness, too. I’d done this when I photographed Oklahoma in 2018. I have photographs of spots in Oklahoma from multiple angles and with different films and formats. I repeated this a bit in Galveston, whereas the mainland Texas photographs were strictly 4x5 color. Galveston, with its downtown and its beautifully flawed alleyways, so full of character, and its neighborhood streets, were great for the smaller camera. I had the M6 with Tri-X 400 and my Wista Field camera with Portra 400.
Why do you choose to stick to film? What do you like most about the analogue medium?
It’s all I’ve known. And I like the look and feel of it, and the tangible nature of it, and that it’s archival.
The final lines are up to you. You can let people know where to get your book, share advice for aspiring photographers or tell us what you had for breakfast.
Thank you! For those interested in the new book, Galveston, it can be preordered here. I’m currently in my study answering these questions while listening to my local Classical station, 91.5. It’s a nice late morning here in Los Angeles. And for breakfast, I had coffee, soft-boiled eggs, and sausage.