Jake Mein


Can you introduce us to Six For Gold, how you came up with the title and what you learned from creating this body of work.

The project is titled ‘Six for Gold’ & was made over the last ten years. The book acts as a visual poem, it looks into themes of identity, home & a sense of belonging in an increasingly transitory world.  The title came last to be honest, I know some people like to come up with their artist statement & title at the start but I can’t think of anything worse. It came from working with Harry & Lucy who run Bad News Books, Six for Gold is a line from an old nursery rhyme called One for Sorrow, the line was originally Six for hell, seven for the devil, his own self. The amount of magpies you saw dictated your luck. I think spending so long on a project can be positive & negative, personally 10 years felt like too long. Not having any real deadline (until the print deadline) meant things lagged on. In saying that given the time I had to work on the project I felt much more comfortable exploring the ideas that at first I approached with trepidation. 

What inspired your interest in the topic of identity? As a photographer, what role do you believe you play in revealing another’s identity?

For me it was entirely personal, something I’ve always struggled with. A sense of belonging is a theme that has always intrigued me, that then developed into questioning the idea of home and what exactly that is. It’s been said a lot but photography can be considered therapeutic in that you can question things that are ultimately personal feelings that you may be struggling with. Being able to communicate a part of someone’s identity or personality through a single still image might be one of the most difficult things to do within photography, everyone interprets things with a different visual language and has their own truth. With that in mind I’m conscious of communicating the person in the way they present themselves at that time.

What was the process of making your book like, can you tell us about your selection process?

As I said I was lucky enough to work through the whole process with Harry & Lucy who run Bad News Books. Sometimes the personal attachment you have to certain images can cloud the editing/ sequencing process so having the opinion of others can be vital in making sure the final edit is cohesive. In the essay that accompanies the book, Caroline McQuarrie discusses how most photographic essays focus on a single genres of photography, where as with this project there are three to four which combined together ask more questions than deliver answers. There is less structure, more of a wandering between spaces.

You mention traveling often through Skateboarding, how has the frequent changing of locations impacted your approach to photography?

The opportunity to travel was the biggest impact. There was a time where I could only make pictures while being away from home, I think this almost became a negative though as I struggled to do anything at home. A good friend said it’s about finding beautiful in the mundane which helped change how I was perceiving ‘home’. Changing locations I think played into this theme of home & what is home in this increasingly transitory world. Travel is so attainable, I’m interested in how it has affected the sense of home.

The caption you included for your portrait of Kiori speaks about the different ways one might perceive his identity based on what they know of the cultural location versus what items within the frame speak to other connotations. How often do you feel we associate place with identity? In what ways do you play into that or work against it with your photographs? How much do you learn of another person before you feel like you can accurately portray them?

Good question. The association of place & identity can only be coupled if there are visual symbols in the image that give themselves to a certain place, otherwise it is all made up by the subject. With the image of Kiori the visual language lends itself to two places due to the heavy American influence we have in New Zealand, in that way there is a juxtaposition. I only had a couple of minutes with Kiori as he was only stopping by while we were working. I had one frame left and no more film so I’m surprised it came out at all. For me it speaks on the displacement that the earthquake forced on the city’s inhabitants which is really important. In general the bulk of the portraits I make are people I know well who feel comfortable with me due to the amount of time I’ve spent with them so in that way the Kiori image is a bit of an anomaly. 

Caption for referenced image : This image was taken in my hometown of Christchurch which was nearly completely destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake of which I was there to experience. Returning home post earthquake has been strange. It’s hard to explain the feeling of seeing the place you spent the bulk of your life growing up be completely levelled. I met Kiori (pictured) very briefly whilst on a commission in Christchurch a couple of years back, Kiori has a Moko tattoo, a traditional Maori tattoo that adorns the face, he is also wearing Pounamu around his neck which is considered taonga (treasure). I’ve always thought that this image looks conflicted in it’s origins as there are so many symbols of the the heavy American influence that we see in New Zealand. In this image the FUBU football jersey & the Impala in the background. This picture has always been a favourite of mine as the readings of identity can be so different depending on the viewer.

What has your camera taught you?

That the limitations photography holds are great. You have to contain what ever it is you’re making a picture of into a single frame. We could go into a discussion of a personal truth but I think the limitation of what is left out of the frame is just as important as what is included.

To keep up to date on Jake’s upcoming work follow along here:

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Website http://jakemein.com/

Rhombie Sandoval