Photographer Joshua Jensen-Nagle’s “ENDLESS SUMMER” Beachscape Series takes over Photo London 2017
Enter Toronto-based photographer Joshua Jensen-Nagle’s west end studio and you are greeted by his wife Jessica Jensen and bear-like dog Boss, and the pungent smell of silicone. In the centre of the room is a giant table with a built in rolling system used for adhering his images – as large as 6ft by 10ft – to plexiglass. And lining the walls in stacks, are large glossy images of dreamy turquoise oceans, romantic European scenes and powdery white mountains.
Joshua begins by justifying his mounting method, “I have never liked my images in frames, behind glass. I felt that somehow the work suffered from it, it wasn’t really approachable.” (And seeing his work digitally does not do justice to his images either.)
While the subject matter and composition is remarkable, it’s the mounting technique that he accredits to enhancing his images. “This [gesturing to a beachscape] is made with cotton paper and then it’s face mounted to plexiglass using a wet adhesive. The adhesive increases the contrast and saturation 10-15%, with the adhesive it creates this milky effect and the whites in images are completely different.”
This proprietary technique is all part of Joshua’s evolution. He first started shooting beaches 16 years ago at his grandparents shore house in Mantoloking, New Jersey with his SX-70 Polaroid camera. He would paint onto the images and reshoot them, creating a dreamlike haze of reality. Now he hangs out of an open helicopter circling 1000 feet in the air with a medium format digital camera attached to a 25 lbs camera stabilizer, capturing idyllic beach destinations around the globe. Yet, despite the new vantage point and camera upgrade, his mounting technique gives the sharp images that surreality found in his earlier works.
His new perspective documents the beach goers natural gathering habits; they assemble their colourful umbrellas and beach towels to form a uniform pattern on the beach. The perfect composition leads audiences to question Joshua’s methods, however it is all happenstance – and scanning the globe via Google Earth pre-trip.
In the last twelve years he’s showcased his images in over fifty exhibitions, and on May 17 he will be adding Photo London 2017 to his list. Representing Canada, the Bau-Xi Gallery will solely present Joshua’s large-scale beachscapes, along with his new limited edition book “Endless Summer.” Photo London’s fair will be on at Somerset House until May 21, where Joshua’s photographs can be viewed in person as he intended. When spectators approach his images featuring the oceans’ milky whitecaps and the colourful sunbathers, they are swept away with nostalgia and their dreams of an endless summer.
What are you working on right now?
We just completed a lot of shooting this past year – we were in Hawaii, Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Portugal, Barcelona, Sicily and Tuscany. It was expanding the beach series that I have been shooting for close to 16 years now.
When you look back to when you first started creating images, where have you seen your work evolve the most?
Just in the way I am shooting now, working with this new camera and the new digital technology, has really been interesting. It’s allowed me to shoot from helicopters and make really large scaled prints – I think the largest print I’ve done was 6 foot by 10 foot, which I wouldn’t have been able to achieve before.
What inspired you to move the vantage point from the beach to a bird’s eye view of it?
I did it about eight years ago in a plane, and it didn’t work out well at all. I didn’t have the right equipment; I didn’t have the right plane. But I was really just striving to find a new way to get excited about this imagery that I have been shooting for so long.
Your images are archival inkjet print face-mounted to plexiglass. How did you start mounting images this way?
I knew they were doing that in Europe. There is only about two labs in North America that do it so I had to learn myself. They weren’t really forthcoming for telling me how to do it or where to get the material, but all labs that are doing it now use basically a double sided tape on a big roll and mount the photograph that way, so you don’t have this increased saturation, contrast and milkiness that the adhesive I use gives.
What other editing or techniques do you use?
I always liked the happy chance of painting on an image or shooting a Polaroid, where you weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen to it. When being in a helicopter you have to coordinate with the pilot, you can get a general sense of the composition you are trying to create but you get a bit of a happy accident of the shot being the perfect one.
There is a lot outside of your control!
Yeah, just the way the people are laid out on the beach! It’s funny because every time I do an exhibition people come up [and ask], “Did you digitally put in all the people or did you cast them?”
How long do you usually stay in the air to get that shot?
Depends on the shoot, I generally like to go up for an hour if there is something convenient close by.
How many images will you generally take in a hour?
I could shoot a couple hundred, but out of that couple hundred I may only use ten.
I understand you do a lot of your research by looking on Google Earth. Tell me more about how you prepare for your trips and what is left for when you get on location.
There is a lot planning. A lot of it does start out with Google. Often times, I will use fixers in the film industry. There is a big network of them and they connect you with someone locally who can get you permits if you need permits, and can advise on the best time to come. Typically for the first time [going up], the pilots go over the flight plan and what we want to achieve, they have a general idea of what I want to achieve because we try to send pictures beforehand.
I noticed you are also shooting mountains covered with skiers. I definitely draw parallels between the beach scenes and the mountain images.
The ski pieces are obviously out, but I have been shooting just mountain ranges. That is something I have been working on for the last couple of years and it’s slowly coming together. I won’t release them until I have 15-20 strong bodies of work for it to make sense. When you get in much more dramatic places, say like the Alps or the Rockies, your dealing with such a large subject when it can take you 40 minutes to fly around it. It’s a different learning curve. Understanding how to photograph it, understanding where and what height, and I’ve been doing it in the winter time so it’s absolutely freezing. There are challenges there!
Has there ever been a time where your efforts and money were wasted because you didn’t get the shot?
Yeah! It’s really disappointing. Weather is a factor you can’t really plan for, and it changes quickly. When I was in Iceland shooting I was expected to do aerial views, but I was stuck in Reykjavik for four days because they had hurricane force winds out on the coast that we were supposed to go shoot from. Obviously, no aircraft is going to shoot in that! Then i got out the very last day. Drove five hours to this glacier, and shot there all day and got one image from it.
Tell me more about this glacier series.
I wanted to try and start a dialogue, the relationship between the glacier and the beach. From an environmental standpoint, with the rapid decrease in glaciers and tidal waters rising your going to see a decrease in our beaches as well! They kind of interact on that level directly. So create more of an awareness of that.
How else do you raise awareness?
I work with the [Lake Ontario] Waterkeeper, a charitable organization here in Toronto. Mark Mattson has been doing it for 16 years. It’s all about swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. I donate a piece every year for an auction. They raise a lot of money and awareness for water for Ontario and abroad.
What are you working on next?
Working on glaciers this spring and summer will be an emphasis. I will also be revisiting my European series that I shot years ago.
Where’s left on your bucket list for shooting?
I really want to go to Argentina. They have an amazing glacier there that is receding quickly, and it is really impressive. That’s hopefully going to happen within the next two years, and McNally national park in Alaska.