Jason Peterson began shooting analogue film photography in high school but remained averse to digital photography until a friend introduced him to Instagram. Drawn in by the immediacy and potential reach of the platform, his anti-elitist attitude perfectly suited the democratic nature of Instagram, where anyone can post their photos and share their artistic vision. Jason decided to post a photo a day and began carving out a distinct visual style or “brand” for his photography. On his way to achieving over 1 million followers he has done just that. His style is now instantly recognisable: black and white, heavy contrast, large scale and always on point in terms of composition and light. Inviting us to follow him into the dark, Jason explores the darkness of monochrome photography.
The following series was shot by Jason on the Leica SL with the wide-angle Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 16–35 f/3.5–4.5 ASPH. Taking to the skies above his adopted hometown of Chicago, the 16-35mm addition to the Leica SL lens portfolio was the perfect piece of gear for capturing these broader horizons.
You were born in Cleveland, Ohio but moved around a little before taking a job in the ad industry in Chicago. How would you describe Chicago? And how has the city influenced your way of seeing the world?
Well… it’s a bit more complex than that. I was born in Ohio and moved to Phoenix, Arizona as a freshman in high school. I then attended art school in Atlanta, before spending 20 years in NYC. The last 8 years I’ve been in Chicago. A lot of people assume I’m from Chicago because of my social media presence!
Chicago is the most creative city in the world. The creative community is unmatched! Music, art, photo, food, fashion. People from outside of Chicago freak out when I say that, but add it up. Kanye West, Chance, Virgil Abloh, Don C, Graham Elliot, Stephanie Izard…
I am definitely influenced by the architecture and most of all the people of Chicago. We have a working class ethic and a friendly mid-west vibe. Be nice to everyone and it all comes around.
What other influences would you say have gone into creating your distinctive visual style?
For sure early 50s street photography by the likes of Harry Callahan, Kubrick in Chicago, Vivian Maier, but also art fashion photographers like Lillian Bassman or straight fine art like Sugimoto.
When did you first start shooting with the Leica SL system? And how does this particular camera system compare to others you have used in the past?
I had the beta for the SL before it was released globally. It was exactly the work horse I was waiting for! The sensor combined with the lens optics and focal length has me covered for any job in any situation.
Having shot with an array of SL lenses, what does the 16-35mm do differently?
I have always loved shooting ultra wide! That’s why as soon as I heard that Leica were bringing out the 16-35mm I was all over them! I love shooting super close concert images on the 16mm to show the scale and feeling of the musician and venue.
Can you tell us about the shoot itself? How was the experience of shooting with the SL and the 16-35mm from a helicopter?
I set up specifically to shoot on this lens, in order to show the scale of the city from the open doors of the helicopter. It was a cold early morning flight with some snow still covering the city and we had some amazing Chicago low-level clouds coming in from the lake. I was carefully leaning out of the door with my camera, directing the pilot over the city with my arm fully extended so that I didn’t catch pieces of the helicopter.
How would you rate the weight and feel of this particular set up?
I love it! It’s heavy enough to feel like a real camera, but light enough to move freely.
Shooting with a lens of this focal length at wide apertures can often lead to distortion. What distortion, if any, did you notice?
There was almost zero distortion at 16mm. Maybe a minor bit that was absolutely no problem to fix in Lightroom.
In addition to your outstanding street and landscape photography, you also shoot concerts and sporting events. You even shot recent gigs by 6lack and G Eazy with the 16-35mm lens. How did you find working with the autofocus in these situations?
The auto focus is super fast, which is especially important with the quick lighting changes at concerts. I now use two SL bodies when shooting live shows. One with the 16-35mm and the other with the 24-90mm so I can shoot non-stop.
The representation of scale resonates throughout your photography but it’s true to say that the majority of your work lives on a 3-inch smartphone display. Do you think that the full frame format and ultra sharp detail of the Leica SL system is lost on mobile? How do you go about making the most of this medium?
Scale is a funny thing and has almost nothing to do with size. I always shoot my images with a composition that helps show scale, regardless of the size it will be viewed. I just wrapped my first solo gallery show, “Colorblind”, in Chicago. It was amazing to see my images printed 5ft x 6ft. The details and quality delivered by the 16-35mm really came to life!
What do you have planned for 2019?
Shoot everyday! Improve everyday! I’m also looking forward to shooting more music videos and publishing my first book in the Spring!
Find out more about the Leica Super-Vario-Elmar-SL 16–35 f/3.5–4.5 ASPH.
See more of Jason’s photography on Instagram.