Atlanta-based photographer Jason Travis has been photographing people and their possessions for years, giving his audience a fascinating look into a person's personality based on what they happen to be carrying with them. In his series called Persona, Jason uses diptychs to juxtapose a portrait of each individual with a well-organized shot of the person's belongings–all at once satisfying our curious nature and providing visual stimulation through the organization of relatable items. This series is a beautiful way simultaneously highlight the uniqueness of each person while creating a common connection between all of us, based on what we find important enough to carry.
Starting as a happy accident with friends and flourishing into a project partnered with the likes of CNN and HGTV, Jason's series begs for an answer to the questions: Does a person's belongings tell the story of who they are? and What do you carry with you?
We were thankful for the opportunity to catch up with Jason for a Behind The Lens look into this enlightening series.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey into photography?
I was always drawing as a kid and I took every available art course in high school until they had to start creating new classes. I then took a few photo classes and really enjoyed them. I received a Bachelors in Graphic Design from the Ernest G. Welch School of Design. For college graduation I was gifted a DSLR camera from my father. For me, design and photography went hand in hand. I started using my camera to take portraits of friends and family.
What are some of your interests?
I'm foremost interested in creating things by any means possible. I'm interested in brainstorming, writing music, playing guitar, drawing, watching films, reading, running, biking, hiking, exploring.
You started your series “Persona” in 2007. How did that come about?
I began shooting my “Persona“ series shortly after college graduation. I had the idea to start a series that would help me get better at taking portraits. I also wanted to have an accompanying photo that could tell a story about the individual. It was just one idea that happened to stick. I shot 24 of them and had an art opening at a local gallery in Atlanta. Flickr helped me to gain momentum as I kept adding shots to my web gallery.
What does the title “Persona” mean to the series?
Everyone's bags are personal, and their contents give a snapshot of their personality. It can be a reflection of the individual and their appearance to the world.
How do you find your subjects?
The first set of them were all friends. It wasn't until later that I approached strangers. These days, it's basically anyone that catches my eye. It's always a way to get to know someone a little better. I want to show a wide variety of society, which means no one is off limits.
Can you share some of your favorite stories about the people you've met?
I've formed a lot of friendships though my “Persona” series. Found a lot of connections and similarities within people. I think my favorite stories are the ones I share with people as I take their photograph. Gaining a little insight into their lives.
What has been the wildest thing you've found in someone's bag?
There's been a few items that have surprised me. A few times I came across people who carried guns. That hasn't happened in awhile. Probably not all that wild just a couple hundred years ago. One fella carried a lot of sandwiches because he said he was always hungry.
Are there ever any items too personal and left out of the shot?
I've had a few people not participate. Mostly everyone I've shot over the years hasn't had a problem with showing all their items. Some people feel embarrassed if they have a lot of receipts or trash in their bag.
What do you love about being a portrait photographer?
I love being able to interact with my subjects. Having a reason to connect. Always trying something new and being excited about the results. Looking forward to the unexpected. Taking part in a shared experience.
You have the ability to tell such a story not only with a person's possessions, but with a shot of the subject, do you have any tips for capturing the perfect portrait?
That's tough to say. I've constantly been refining how I take portraits for years now. I've developed new methods and forgotten old ones. Crafting a real moment can be tough, and I don't always know what I'm looking for right away. I think a good tip is to never stop. Always be pushing yourself. Always try new things. Find some form of comfort and then your subject will feel comfortable.
When is your favorite time to shoot?
Any time and every time, really. Morning, afternoon, golden hour, night time.
What message do you want your photographs to convey?
I want them to convey a unique reality that is familiar and also captivating.
What challenges have you faced while creating?
Stressful deadlines, limited resources, pushing myself too hard, getting tired, burning out. Just have to keep in mind that you can't always be on top. Sometimes you have to let a difficult situation run its course and maintain strength throughout. Challenges make us stronger.
What's a must have in your gear bag?
I've come to rely heavily on my 50mm lens. For me, it's helpful to have a pen and notepad.
How much post processing goes into a completed photo?
I like my processing to stay very grounded in reality. Naturalistic. However, I enjoy contrast and saturation on a lot of my studio shots. I do a fair amount of airbrushing and photoshopping but again, I like it to never feel fake. Depending on the situation, I can spend a long time on certain photos, getting them just right. Other times the raw shots are just the way I want.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I want to keep exploring, breaking new ground and breaking new boundaries. I want to explore new disciplines. Some things I'd like to try outside of photography include woodworking, oil painting, surfing, juggling and more. I have other long term projects that take a cue from “Persona.” I'm still exploring and waiting for the right time. For now I just want to keep shooting and learning and growing as a photographer. Pushing myself with new challenges.
Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers?
When you're a kid, you do a lot of playing. Keep playing. Don't be afraid of your failures.
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