jacob blickenstaff

Soul Singer Sharon Jones: ‘The Cancer Is Here, But I Want To Perform’

In 2013, Sharon Jones was forced to take a hiatus from performing after she was diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer. A new documentary, Miss Sharon Jones!, by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple, follows Jones in the first seven months following her diagnosis.

Jones says that while extensive surgery and chemotherapy took a lot out of her, her desire to make music never faltered. After finishing chemo, recovering from the surgery and getting clean scans, she returned to the stage with The Dap-Kings in 2014.

The cancer has since returned, but Jones wants to continue making music. “This cancer is here, and I have to take the chemo,” she says, “but I want to perform. I just want to be able to get onstage and move.”

Photo: Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings kick off their delayed 2014 tour at the Beacon Theater in New York. Jacob Blickenstaff/Starz Digital

ART BLANCHE: Jacob Blickenstaff

Through his life, music and photography have come hand-in-hand for Jacob Blickenstaff.

The son of a “photojournalist to some degree,” Jacob grew up around cameras, picking them up with some intention for the first time in high school and college. Similarly, Jacob has been a lifelong musician, having played in school bands from elementary to high school as well as having studied in NYU’s jazz program.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)

More than that, though, Jacob has been a longtime appreciator of musical design, with vivid memories of the allure of album artwork, even back as a child.

“I remember very clearly being in middle school and high school going to the local record store in St. Louis and realizing that you could buy used vinyl cheaper than used CDs and certainly cheaper than new CDs. So as I sort of flipped around in the record bins, I just fell in love with the design that was involved with the album covers,” Jacob said. “Especially with jazz records there’s always great photography on the front and also on the back in terms of the sessions and recording studios and stuff. That was always really intertwined with my interest in the music, the visuals.”

Looking back, it was pretty inevitable that all these interests would eventually collide for Jacob, so it should be no surprise that he has found himself a career photographing musicians.

“As I looked to pursue photography as work and a career, where my interest was directed was always back towards music, because I think that was a really big part of me since I was a little kid,” he explained. “It was just applying this visual thing back into the musical thing, which is still the one constant that I hold onto with my work.”

Steve Earle (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)

Appropriately enough, just as music helped trigger the photographer within Jacob, it’s his photography that has brought back out his inner musician.

“I kinda stopped playing [music] seriously before I was ever that good, but I think I had a good sense for it – I had a good understanding of it and I had a good level of experience playing with other musicians and understanding what they get excited about and what they care about,” he said. “I think it just gives me an ease with musicians when I work with them. It places me a little bit more on the inside. I think also the other part of that, as a record collector, as someone who has been just interested in all kinds of music and reads musician biographies and histories, it gives me a real common language of talking about more obscure things or the more esoteric ends of music knowledge which really are all musicians talk about when they’re left to themselves.”

“I think musicians live in a pretty enclosed world – it’s a tough life, it’s very demanding on all sorts of levels, so I think when someone can kind of come and be on the inside of that it takes away a lot of stress and allows everyone to relax.”

Naomi Shelton (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)

Beyond bringing that relatability, Jacob’s musical impulses continue to influence his work and the way he approaches photography in many other ways. For instance, he feels that photoshoots are to a photographer what a recording session is to a musician, so he prepares for them with the same mindset that a musician would take into the studio.

“I always leave room for improvisation and things that we discover in the process of shooting… [but], it is good to prepare. I think of it very much like a recording session where you would want to have the ingredients or the pieces all lined up and figured out: you would want to know how much time you have, you want to know which kind of cameras and technical things you’re going to use… you want to have a few locations in mind as a starting space,” he explained. “So you plan, but you also use those pieces however you can in the process of it, because I think there’s usually a point where both parties loosen up and to discover an idea together is exciting.”

Blake Mills (Courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff)

“And I think that’s also a very musical thing – it’s like how a band would work out a song in a rehearsal or in a recording session. I mean, musicians – I don’t think – ever go in with an exact idea of how a song’s supposed to come out in the end. They’ll practice it, they’ll think about it, they’ll do a demo and listen to it, but I think that [the] in the moment creative element always has to be there.”

Just like with a recording session or a concert, Jacob sees a successful photoshoot as not always coming from having a concrete plan, but rather an openness to work together – and to play off one another – to get the job done.

He would be the one to know.

-Dylan Singleton

There was also a strange admiration for boys who did not do their work, but still managed to pass exams, while girls who consistently did their assignments lacked ‘sparkle’. It is a small wonder that girls dislike science and choose other subjects to study at university when their efforts are consistently devalued.
—  Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter? Jacob Clark Blickenstaff