As Photographer Jon Blacker branches out into video, Altpick Connects is there to ask some pertinent questions about his next career move.
Altpick Connects: As a photographer what is your interest in pursuing video?
Jon Blacker: Having been a photographer now for well over 20 years, shooting video opens up an entire new client market to and adds an entirely new dimension to my story telling both for the client and for me. It’s an incredibly refreshing new tool for me and I’m very much enjoying the process, both technically and aesthetically. Varying statistics indicate that there’s a significant tipping point right now in media where, particularly online, viewers want to see video. From large corporations all the way down to one-man shops, businesses are seeing this trend and are embracing this method of telling their stories be that on their web sites or their social media streams and that trend in turn presents a great opportunity for visual storytellers.
AC: Were there any stumbling blocks in the transition from photography to shooting a documentary?
JB: The single biggest stumbling block relative to this documentary project in particular, is securing funding. With editorial or corporate work, either still or video, the funding is provided by the client; it’s commerce. Making a documentary film is an entirely different ballgame and through a number of sources including friends and a number of businesses, getting the money to be able to take this 12-week road trip and shoot this film has been extremely challenging. I have set up an Indiegogo campaign (http://bitly.com/15V9DHQ) that’s now down to it’s last few days (ends March 4) and has not done nearly as well as hoped despite a significant social media presence. The three-month autism awareness tour leaves on March 21, so it’s really coming down to the wire.
AC: There is a great public interest in craftsman and the artisan creativity. What is the topic of your first story?
JB: I was contacted by a luthier who builds incredible custom acoustic guitars (he’s built for the likes of Sammy Hagar, Alex Lifeson and Zakk Wylde among others) and also offers hands on courses in guitar building. He was looking to have a video created that showed what goes into building one of his guitars, so over the course of three shooting sessions, we followed the entire process from thickness sanding the wood for the top of the guitar body, to the completed instrument being placed into its case. It was a great project to shoot and really shows the incredible artistry and craftsmanship that go into his work.
AC: It seems that your focus is not only the human-interest factor, but also bringing awareness to the mainstream. What was your interest and driving force on the autism documentary?
JB: I have an uncle who is mentally challenged. With his parents having passed over 15 years ago now and with his sister (my mother) having passed in 2011, I am in contact with him every week. He lives in a nursing home in the city where he grew up and has lived since he was born (about 3 1/2 hours north of Toronto) and is doing really well. Having been around him my entire life, I’ve seen the stigma and misconception attached to what people think being mentally challenged is; there is a huge knee-jerk tendency to allow the condition to define the person, which quite gets my back up. I know for example that my uncle loves sports, particularly hockey and is an encyclopedia of facts and statistics. He’s not retarded, he is James. Similarly, when I learned of 15-year-old Austin’s story, I felt it a great opportunity to explore that concept further. Austin is an absolute marvel on the go-kart track, having been racing for just 8 seasons; he is already a three-time champ. He faces significant challenges at school and has fine motor control concerns (he can’t tie his shoes, or write is the name for example) but when he’s behind the wheel of his kart, he’s like any other 15-year-old. In his own words, he’s said that what he loves most about racing is that it makes him feel free. In addition to the human interest component and telling Austin’s story, one of my main goals in making this film is to show what autism is, but perhaps more importantly, to show what autism is not.