Guest Photographer: Jono Slack

August 28, 2012  •  6 Comments

In the introduction to this series I said, as part of my attempt to define Fine Art Photography, that it largely excludes images of loved-ones, pets, homes, holidays etc., but there are of course shots of these subjects that have something to say which is larger and more universal in visual impact than the photographer's personal relationship to a particular family member. The work of Sally Mann and Elliott Erwitt comes to mind.

As I typed those words, I immediately thought of Jono Slack.


Jono is widely known in the online photo community. He has a voracious appetite for all things photographic, a great knowledge of the subject, and a great willingness to share that knowledge. He is also unusual in that for all his connoisseurship of camera equipment, he has never gone down the extremely technical route. He has never purchased a Medium Format Digital system, has eschewed the Nikon D800 (the DSLR equivalent of MFD) and has no interest in shooting with tripods, remote releases, or any of the other obsessera of the high-end shooter. Instead he concentrates on cameras that feel wonderful to use, fronted by lenses with beautiful renderings. So for Jono, photography is a tactile, sensual pursuit rather than a primarily technical one. And this shows in his work.

Emma and Caspar after the Sauna

I first came across him in the world of Leica photography, where he and I were very early adopters of the M8 camera. And while I have rather left Leica behind (I still have all the lenses but am waiting for what I think is a truly viable camera body on which to use them) he has gone on to be an acknowledged expert, beta tester, and exponent of the Leica style.


Returning to the question of family, pets, homes etc., Jono has been sharing his work online for so long that many of his wide audience have come to know his family members, home and menagerie of animals over the years even though most of use have never met them. It is not so much in the particular image that the work excels (though it nearly always does) but in the narrative: the children who arrive, grow, leave and return; the wife, whose portrait of intelligence, gentleness and humour is so deftly drawn. We don't need to know these people personally in order for their lives, as portrayed, to make sense to us.


Jono's gorgeous selection of lenses is put to use on a daily basis, as it has been for a very long time, in the task of documenting the daily business of living in a wider context than that of family alone. He doesn't go to Arizona, Iceland or Namibia in pursuit of Photographic Big Game to stuff and hang on his wall: instead, he captures his farmhouse kitchen on a spring morning, fresh wildflowers in a rustic vase. Or natural-looking knobbly fruit in chipped, beautiful bowls. The family dogs cavorting madly in the fenlands surrounding his home, the lone trees in bleak fields under vast skies, changing with the shifting seasons.

Saul's back (for the weekend) - Hooray!

His work is, therefore, domestic documentary made not through any cohesive scheme to organise, order or present (try using his website!) but captured in all its messy glory. And it is marvellous. He works with the enthusiasm of an avid snap shooter but with the aesthetic and skill of a very expert image maker, all filtered through those wonderful lenses. He has created a record of time, place and people which I consider fascinating and possibly unique and which I think will historically hold up as having greater interest than the specifics of the individuals involved.


Then there is his use of light: I am not sure that he owns even a flash gun: that farmhouse and the garden that surrounds it are full of shafts of light, used to isolate and give dimension, and dappled shade to emphasise texture and mood. 


As we move further from the house and out (with the dogs of course) into the surrounding countryside, we start to get a sense of the landscape that has shaped this inter-generational narrative, and the intimacy of these landscapes appeals greatly to me. They are not walked through but lived in and there is a great sense of a two-way relationship between the land and its inhabitants, a sense of how they have shaped each other over time.


It's the irony of a data-intensive age that so few people make packets of prints any more, to store in shoe-boxes and be discovered by their grandchildren. Hard drives speak only through their software interpreters and who knows, in fifty or one hundred years time, how their storage will have held up and how widely the language of their file formats will be spoken. So domestic documentary material like Jono's may not last. And this would be a crying shame. Someone somewhere should be building a future-proof archive of material like this to ensure that the charm of the ephemeral present does not get dissolved in the future.



Jono Slack Biography

I grew up in St. Ives, Cornwall where my father Roger Slack was a local doctor and my mother, Janet Slack, a jeweller. They were part of the vibrant local art scene, my father as an archivist (recording local people's recollections of Alfred Wallis in the 1950s and 1960s, and the International Music Seminar concerts), as a photographer and as a sculptor.

Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Tony O'Mally and Brian Wynter were family friends and dinner guests. Both of my parents were very much involved with the setting up of the Tate Gallery in St. Ives: Art was part of my childhood.

I started painting when studying science (and learned to draw in Botany classes) but with the advent of a real job and a real family, time was limited and so I turned to Photography as a more immediate art form. How little I understood!


We settled deep in the countryside on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders in the 1980s, but still with a close connection to Cornwall and its beautiful landscape.

We have a family-run software business and consequently I made a decision not to become a full-time photographer. I have done some PR work and I do weddings occasionally (these days the proceeds go to charity) and this means that I can concentrate on taking the photographs I want rather than having to concentrate on clients

In the early days of digital I got involved with firmware testing for Kodak with respect to the SLR/n and this lead first of all to firmware, and then hardware field testing for Leica. It's fun to do and hopefully it's useful. I've spent time with prototype versions of the M9, the X1 and X2 and more recently the M Monochrom.


Working Practice
Developing computer software requires absolute precision of thought. I don't need to be carrying this over into my photography, in fact quite the opposite. On the other hand, my scientific education and an unhealthy obsession with gadgets means that I can't resist the technological aspects of photography. Gear acquisition Syndrome and Pixel Peeping come to me as second nature.
These days, if you frequent the internet discussion forums on photography you'll find long and tortuous discussions about Image Quality but beyond reports of of the latest trip to a slot canyon there is very little talk about Image Content. To try and control my tendency to obsessive concentration on IQ I have a mantra: if it's interesting, nobody cares if it's technically good. If it's not interesting, nobody cares at all.


From an equipment point of view, I usually use two Leica M9 bodies with a selection of lenses ranging from 16-90mm. I love the way the cameras get out of your way and the way that one's subjects don't seem intimidated or phased. For telephoto and macro work I've settled on Micro Four Thirds with a couple of Olympus OMD bodies. I never use a tripod because I've lost the will to live by the time I've got everything set up. I like small cameras, not so much because of the weight or the handling but because of the effect that they don't have on your subjects, whether that be a horse or a person.


For post-processing I use Apple Aperture, because I like the cataloguing and the printing and I find the controls more to my liking than Lightroom. I also use Silver Effex Pro for B&W conversions. I only use Photoshop these days for correcting lens distortion.

I studiously calibrated my monitors every week for several years (and they seemed to need it). However, I stopped doing it completely around 2 years ago. Now I understand absolutely the relationship between the screen on my 17" MPB, my iMac, my Cinema Display and my Epson 3880 printer. Similarly when shooting outside I use daylight White Balance on all my cameras - it gives me a fixed frame of reference which I really understand and shooting RAW means that it can be corrected later.

_7131094 - Version 2

I've avoided Medium Format equipment (and the splendid new Nikon D800) because although I'd like the detail, I can't see it contributing much to my spontaneity. I seldom print larger than 18x24" (A2+) and for these purposes and my photography, 16mp is quite adequate.


My photography is fundamentally primitive (Alfred Wallis rather than Patrick Heron). I shoot what I see and very rarely plan a photograph. I might move a vase of flowers or a bowl of fruit into the light but that's about it. When I see something I'll take several images but it's nearly always the first one that works best: engaging my conscious brain only seems to spoil things. I like to think that I sometimes provide an alternative view of a simple scene, or catch a nuance in an expression, raise a smile with an unexpected juxtaposition or create a visual link between a skyscape and the land below it. I have no profound intent, but I feel that my photographic instinct is much more subtle than my photographic intellect, and thus would rather rely on it.

m_d2x5747b I always carry a camera. Always. And I take photographs every day, even if the light's awful and the prospect of anything useful is quite remote. Whereas thinking about images seems to be counter-productive, practicing is absolutely useful, practicing focussing with the Leica rangefinder, practicing framing with the OMD, practicing looking, all of this is positive and useful.


Photographs are the punctuation marks of my existence, making images is a kind of obsession. Sharing them makes it all worthwhile.



Flick Merauld(non-registered)
You, of all photographers whose work i've seen, manage to capture an element of magic in your photographs, something behind the the image itself - one could sound fanciful and call it otherworldly, but the photos bear out the observation so that it doesn't appear so trite after all. You appear to snare something extra with the greatest of ease.
christopher breunig(non-registered)
Mr Slack's work I greatly admire (and envy). His story here matches what you find in the photographs.
Wonderful post, story, and images.

Combining the humanness with the images tells quite a lovely story.

Charles Gervais(non-registered)
Hey Jono, long time!

Great post my friend. Hmm, you were always a great observer, but these are stellar images! We really should meet up for an on-the-fly shoot again (I think it's actually your turn to host :-)

Thanks, Tim, for bringing Jono to the fore.


Charles (chasg at DPReview)
Matt Grayson(non-registered)
Jono is one of those artists who don't precisely make it look easy, but make it look like - if you just keep your eyes open, all this beauty is there for the capturing. He is truly inspirational.
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