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“I first picked up a digital camera strictly to learn how to delete embarrassing photos of myself off of them,” photographer Matt Jackisch jokes with us in an interview. “Once I understood the basics, I started traveling with one. I really took to the story-telling aspect of photography.” Matt is the past winner of the Epson International Pano Awards. And of course, he creates stunning panoramic images. So we spoke to him about how he does it and his creative vision.
The Essential Gear of Matt Jackisch
“I am far from a gear head. I don’t have the latest and greatest gear. I typically find something that works and become very loyal to it. I use a Nikon D810. Over the years, it’s been dropped, soaked, and overheated and it still works fine. I’m very happy with it, even if it is beat up. For 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’ve owned that stands up to the abuse I put it through. I’m very hard on my gear. My day bag is a Lowepro Powder 500AW. My multiday bag is an 85L Dueter. I edit on an IMac using Lightroom and Photoshop. The chair I spend hours editing in is faux leather with an optional recline. 5 wheeler.”
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.
Matt Jackisch: I first picked up a digital camera strictly to learn how to delete embarrassing photos of myself off of them. Early days. Once I understood the basics, I started traveling with one. I really took to the story-telling aspect of photography. I photographed everything I witnessed and I started becoming extremely opportunistic about it. Urban spelunking in South Korea, exploring abandoned ruins in Tibet, camping solo on the Great Wall of China, my camera came with me everywhere. It became the foundation of my experience. I realized there was a perfectionist, an artist, and an adventurer inside of me, and photography became the perfect medium to explore these aspects of myself.
Phoblographer: What fascinates you about landscape photography?
Matt Jackisch: The human experience is becoming this synthetic and manufactured thing. Amidst all this distraction and noise, Nature remains my benchmark for reality. I simply wish to express aspects of our reality that have largely become too subtle to appreciate or are too complex to convey.
Phoblographer: Panoramic imagery was super easy and simple in the film photography world. With digital, it’s more work-intensive. But what really attracted you to it?
Matt Jackisch: I don’t think it’s work-intensive actually. In most cases, you can plug your shots into Lightroom and it will spit out a great result. Even before that became an option, a bit of patience in Photoshop would get you there. I’m amazed by how easy it is now, assuming no blending is required. I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to Panos specifically, but some scenes just need to be conveyed in that way and I try to be as adaptive as possible in my thought process, without catering to a preconceived agenda.
Phoblographer: Your images, because of the panoramic format, feel like a widescreen painting. Do you draw inspiration from paintings of old landscapes? What are some of your favorite paintings and artists?
Matt Jackisch: The one painter that stands out as a big inspiration for me is Albert Bierstadt. Not only for his inventive use of light and dramatic portrayals of Western Landscapes but for the fact that he was able to exist in those remote and unexplored spaces with relatively primitive survival gear and still maintain a creative mindset. It’s not like they had bug spray, sunscreen, and gore-tex back in the 1800s.
Phoblographer: When it comes to expressing yourself creatively, it seems like panoramic photography can become monotonous. Is this 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 habit. True creativity should be experimental and playful. With pano photography specifically, typically the ideal subject is a grand landscape. But no grand landscape is typical. There is plenty of room for experimentation and originality provided of course that one is willing to explore new areas. However, in the case of the winning image last year, 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 felt a wider format was the best way to exploit the flow in the scene.
I would also add, that with the way photography is being shared today -mostly on a phone screen- pano photography has become largely under-appreciated. With the primary goal of our art being about having an impact of some sort, I think it takes a bit of a rebellious nature to overlook that endgame and still hammer out beautiful panoramic photography that will most likely not be seen or shared online.
Phoblographer: How do you feel your creative vision evolved since you won the previous EPSON Pano award?
Matt Jackisch: My creative vision is a direct function of my adaptability and my access to nature. I have been taking more measures to simplify my everyday life to allow for a more creative headspace in the field. In steering towards minimalism and essentialism, I can be better mentally equipped to be more mindful in the landscape. I have also been working on increasing my access to remote terrain by learning to mitigate risk during the winter months in the mountains. Embracing winter has become a big part of my process and is reflected in my most recent work.
Phoblographer: How, if at all, did your creative vision change in the pandemic?
Matt Jackisch: With the pandemic severely reducing our mobility I had to put all of my international plans on hold. I re-prioritized my ‘list’ and became extremely acquainted with more local landscapes. I feel very fortunate to live in a place that still has vast 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: printing, exploring, shooting, or editing?
Matt Jackisch: Most definitely the explorative process is my favorite. Photography has become my way of maintaining a relationship with the unknown and escaping the mental loops we get stuck in. I really appreciate furthering my perspective and my awareness through unlocking new areas for my mind to engage. Finding a forgotten Old Growth Forest or a hidden mountainscape, for example. From there, the creative process begins and I can decide how to tell its story.
Phoblographer: Looking at your images, you really go out of the way to get the shot. Have you had any close calls? For example, have you ever been caught in an avalanche or have had a big, wild cat wanting to get you?
Matt Jackisch: Oh sure, lots of close calls. But nothing too bad. I’ve had close encounters with bears while hiking alone, and had to chase one out of camp once. I’ve had a backpack full of photography gear blow off a cliff. I’ve triggered a mini landslide that just about deposited me into a river. Sleepless nights in 100km/ph winds. While exploring a snow covered forest once, a cluster of large branches snapped above me and crashed down all around, missing me by inches. I’ve been caught in 20 knot winds on the open ocean in a kayak. I’ve sought refuge in an emergency shelter in Iceland in a bad storm that had washed the trail away. I was in a motorcycle crash in Indonesia that should have killed me and the driver. Things like that. They usually happen so fast that it doesn’t even trigger an emotional response. Fear itself is far more detrimental.
Phoblographer: You shoot in a wide variety of locations. Are you personally more of a mountain, jungle, or beach kind of guy?
Matt Jackisch: I’d say, like many landscape photographers, I’m 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 at long exposures and there’s water involved. How do you go about blending the photos while shooting the panorama to ensure that it blends to look natural? That seems incredibly labor-intensive.
Matt Jackisch: Fortunately water in general blends together quite easily. But indeed, some panos are hugely labor-intensive. As a perfectionist, I am meticulous about detail, and I insist on doing these blends by hand, sometimes at a 400% zoom. The real challenge comes with a pano that requires exposure blending and/or focus stacking. This can require combining up to a dozen images, all manually to ensure all shadow/highlight detail is restored and that its sharp front to back. I think this process is overly daunting to most photographers, especially if they only intend on sharing their work online. But if the finished product is a success, it’s very rewarding indeed!
All images by Matt Jackisch. Used with permission.