ART BLANCHE: In Close Contact
Not one to let a good opportunity slip by, photographer Jacob Blickenstaff envisioned In Close Contact as a way to interact with musicians that he admired by interviewing and photographing them. Billed as an “independent documentary project on music, musicians, and creativity,” the series will turn three this January, and has featured the likes of Yo La Tengo, Puss n Boots, and, most recently, Rufus Wainwright, in that time.
“I think the main motivation at the time of when I started it was just that I wanted to be doing one-on-one portraits more regularly and I was just like, ‘How do I get the access to do that? What’s the reason for doing this?'” Jacob said.
“So I had a relationship with Mother Jonesand just sent them an email and said, 'Hey, would you be into a series where I did a portrait and did a quick interview with somebody?’ And they said, 'Sure!’ cause I wasn’t getting paid for it and they need some arts and culture content,” he added, laughing.
Buffy Sainte-Marie for In Close Contact (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)
A noted self-starter, this level of drive wasn’t out of character for Jacob at all, having previously developed a close relationship with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings and their label Daptone, all through his own resolve.
To set In Close Contact, Jacob culled through press releases as well as reached out to some of his contacts to start coordinating interviews. Even with the series still in its fledgling state, he was more than happy with the guests that he was getting.
“It was a challenge I gave myself and then it started to take on a little momentum… kind of quickly, even within the first 4-5 profiles, somebody offered to let me talk with Benmont Tench who is a great session musician and also a member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers since the beginning,” Jacob said. “I was kind of like 'Whoa, I can actually get face time with some of these people that are really fascinating’ so I just kept doing them.”
Benmont Tench III for In Close Contact (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)
“The interviews became longer because I do like talking with these people – you know the whole project is just about interaction.”
Even as Jacob found himself talking to his interviewees for longer, most sessions clocked in at total of 90 minutes for both the interview and the portrait session, meaning that Jacob had to get things rolling quickly, and to work as efficiently as possible.
On top of that, he decided to use an older Hassleblad film camera for the series – it would give the whole project a stylized and cohesive look, while adding another fun wrinkle into the whole adventure.
“I mean I think a part of the original challenge was to shoot it on film and using the Hassleblad camera that I had… because you have the limit of 12 frames before you have to change your roll. So most of these [sessions] I was only shooting two rolls or something,” Jacob said. “So it was part of the process to come to a decision quickly about how to you want to photograph somebody and work within these limits.”
Declan O’Rourke for In Close Contact (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)
Despite the challenges of choosing an analog camera, Jacob found that using his Hassleblad actually brought some of its own unique benefits to the shoot that a different setup would miss.
“I really do like using that camera and I’ve found that whether it’s an older artist or a younger artist, they’re kind of curious [about it] or they remember them from back in the day when more people used them, so it helped in establish a connection,” he said. “The problem with digital for most people, including myself, is that you spend a lot of time looking at the back and making little adjustments and then you lose a connection with the subject which is ultimately much worse than a minor technical detail.”
Rufus Wainwright for In Close Contact (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)
That said, things didn’t always go off without a hitch.
“But you’re definitely going to make a few mistakes. I think there’s some great photos of Jackson Browne that don’t exist because I didn’t have film loaded in the film back for the Hassleblad,” he said, laughing.
“But I’ve never had any real disasters. And each time, you know, you pick up the roll of film and like, 'Ahh there it is, and it’s in focus and it’s what I imagined it to be.’ …It gives you some faith in the materials and the process.”