Jonathan Higbee (1981) was born and raised outside Kansas City, Missouri, and has called New York home for nearly 10 years. He found his niche as a travel correspondent, Instinct, America's largest independently-published gay print magazine for extensive international travel features. Jonathan is a 2018 Hasselblad Masters finalist, and has earned multiple awards, including the 2015 World Street Photography grand prize. He is exhibited across the world, most recently in Paris, and is published regularly, with recent features in Colossal, LensCulture, LFI Magazine, Huffington Post, GUP Magazine, the Phoblographer and more.
His work can be seen at: www.jonathanhigbee.com
The following images and text are excerpts from our talk with Jonathan Higbee:
"I moved to New York almost a decade ago and I had been aware of street photography and I loved it as a spectator. I didn't ever think it was something I could make. But then of course the second I got to New York, it was like, oh, I get it. I have to make street photography here. There's just no other way to tell the story of the city.
I was doing street photo walks, typical photo walks and making mostly really crappy street photography, and then maybe once a month one of these Coincidences would manifest itself… and even then I didn't realize it could make a series. I knew that these were particularly good shots, but once I investigated and understood why these photographs were materializing, which is organizing the chaos and trying to focus on one element to learn more about everything else in its vicinity."
"They take generally a lot of time, a lot of waiting. And how that happens is when I'm doing a traditional photo walk, I will keep my radar open to an element that is interesting, whether it's a billboard or graffiti or even the way that light gets filtered through midtown at a certain part of the day. I have a few shots that deal with that. So in the rare occasion when I can find something that interests me like that, I will plant my ass there and shoot it as long as it takes to get something or until the city gets rid of it, which happens a lot, especially with advertisements. So I will generally spend afternoons because I prefer bold light. I will spend almost all afternoon in front of whatever I've found a snapping away and hoping that some subject walks into the frame or onto the set or a bird flies in or something like that."
"It can take months. On a rare occasion, it's taken two days. So once I've gotten the shot, and you always know when you get the shot, you get a feeling that nothing's going to compare, so you get a feeling that's hard to describe. Once I know I got the shot, I keep shooting because you never freaking know if it's in focus or whatever. So I keep shooting..."
"My first camera was a polaroid. I got it when I was eight years old and I just, I freaking loved it. I didn't think I would do it for living though. I initially wanted to be a writer. I went to school in L.A. for writing for communication and media studies and I got a job right out of college at a magazine called Instinct. It's a national gay magazine, print legacy stuff they used to make those don't exist anymore. I was an associate editor at first... we would do travel features. I would be fortunate enough to write the travel features, but since they didn't have any money, I would also have to take the pictures so I self taught my eyes."
"So when we would have editorial meetings at the magazine that I worked at, we would of course discuss that month's destination and obviously the countries, gay laws had to be taken into consideration. Obviously there are still many, many countries where it's so illegal to be gay that they'll kill you if they find out and all that cheerful stuff. I had always been interested in traveling and photography since my job and after moving here I started getting really pissed off that I couldn't travel to a ton of places like Egypt.
And so I started getting really angry about it after street photography took off for me that I can't freaking go to these places. I can't go to these places that I would legitimately have loved to go to and make the photos that I love to make. So I cheated and I used the Google maps camera and traveled around the world and through Google's help visiting these places virtually and otherwise making the same kind of photography I would make if I were there."
"Akathesia is about antidepressants. I had been on Lexapro for seven years now and I've been trying, trying to get off of it for the past five and it's been an absolute nightmare. At first I thought I was alone, but the New York Times last month I wrote that the industry is starting to research it and people are starting to come out and say that they've been unable to get off antidepressants. So this series is about Lexapro and just feeling chained to that shit. When you try to get off an SSRI, even if you wean yourself off, you get rebound, depression, rebound anxiety and fun things called brain zaps where it makes you feel like you're being electrocuted. And so this is the boogie man being the antidepressant, not anxiety or depression itself."
"It was so bad I couldn't get out of bed and the one thing that could get me out of bed was the thought of making photography, that's always deep down inside me and that's always the one thing that can get me up and out. And so I decided to make photography to show what I was feeling on the inside and the struggle with Lexapro. And that was absolutely cathartic. It was very therapeutic and it still is. Even looking at them, it's still cathartic and has helped me. The series has helped me not pressure myself so much to, to get off if I can't, which has been a big help."
"Oh, it's a hustle. Ya'll gotta a hustle. It's exhausting and it never ends, to begin with. It's probably a very complex series of events, but I attribute that (success) mostly to entering some competitions and placing kind of well with them. I really think that that’s what allowed me to get a few interviews and maybe maybe even just motivated me and gave me validation... you have to really research the contest and there are tons of scams out there, but entering contests is a good way to kick yourself up to the next level.
I'm one of those people that self promotion makes me feel icky and it makes my skin crawl. But, unfortunately, this day and age for any artist who wants to make a career of it, you have to be comfortable with self promotion and you have to really go out there and do it and not be afraid.
In the beginning I would reach out to journalists, my favorite blogs or art magazines, mostly got no's, but a few yeses and then from those few yeses even more would come. I think anyone with a even a little bit of talent, but a lot of aspiration and motivation can do it too.
I think that the most important part of the process of the journey is to really, really investigate how you see the world differently from everyone else. I literally would consider what was catching my eye out in the world. I would sit there and wonder what about it I was interested in. I think it's so vital and so important to really get a grasp on your own unique perspective, once you have that, everyone else is going to be interested because no one else can see the world that the way you can. So really that's the basis for me, making successful work is to just be true to yourself and find out who you are to begin with."