v1.13 / Mike Jackson & the Age of Light

“If you attend to the work . . . you achieve, in effect, a direct link to your intuition, your real self.”

The end of one aesthetic movement and the beginning of another is a bit like the snake eating its own tail. Art doesn’t play friendly with well-defined historical moments. It holds a grudge against limitation. There are more Romantics now than you could swing a dead albatross at—more Decadents than Baudelaire could have imagined. Futurism sells. And the orphans of Impressionism rule the world. Mike Jackson’s stunning luminograms extend toward perfection what many photographers in the early twentieth century began: the Bauhaus abstractions of Moholy-Nagy, for instance, or the “Designs in Abstract Forms of Light” by California photographer, Francis Bruguière. To set the mood for Jackson’s luminograms, I want to open with a piece by Thomas Wilfred who, like Jackson, didn’t just work with light; he played it like an instrument. Wilfred called his art “lumia,” and developed the “clavilux,” a color organ, to orchestrate light as a musician orchestrates sound. The clip below is Wilfred’s Opus 140—something like what I imagine goes through Jackson’s mind, if not his studio.
Mike Jackson’s luminograms are available at MMX Gallery in London. “Each Luminogram is unique and only one Silver Gelatin print is produced of each image.” Get yours here! And be sure to check out Issue 11 of Od Review for Mike Jackson’s extraordinary series, “The Child’s Landscape.”


“Beside the Church” © Mike Jackson I believe that there is a universality between all things. I feel that the eye selectively looks for these truths – and they are everywhere. I came to this conclusion after studying a beach in Wales for eight years. I found that the process of repeating the visits to the beach and the constant search for the new and exciting events that were happening on the beach made me realise, eventually, that it wasn’t actually the beach that I was photographing. I was using the beach as a learning tool to become more self-aware of my response to the universal truths that are all around us. The fact that I repeated the searching with very basic tools and no complications or distractions, such as multiple lenses or new equipment, made it easier for me to see and understand what was happening to me when I noticed something worth photographing. Listening to those hushed suggestions in the mind allowed me to trust in the smallest idea or impulse. Discovering this basic fact allowed me to apply it to other work – and I started to realise that I could get the same sense of excitement from arranging cut out shapes on a table as I did from photographing the beach. So somewhere there is a connection.
“Luminogram 514” © Mike Jackson It was at this time that I started experimenting with directing light onto old photo paper in the darkroom. It seemed to me that it was as simple as it can get – just light on paper. Over time I found that I could build up a series of steps that allowed me to mold the light and have the photo paper translate what I was doing. It felt as if my thoughts were being directly recorded onto the paper’s flat surface. And yet the results were startlingly three dimensional. It felt as if I were sculpting with light – and I see now that photo paper has more in common with sculpture than with drawing and painting. It changes its very structure at a chemical level. Unlike paintings that are only added to, the photo paper is changed, as stone would be when sculpted.
“Underpass” © Mike Jackson The process grew over the months and I happily started to get repeatable results. When I got to this stage I began to be able to apply myself to the work – the reasoning behind it. I found it fascinating that you could produce work that has no real physical resemblance to reality, and yet your reactions to reality, your experience of reality, pushes your ideas and impulses towards making the marks in that unique one-off way. In effect you could produce a piece that reflects a memory or memories of a place, and the piece wouldn’t have to resemble that place at all. It doesn’t have to resemble any place, in fact. What is important is that the marks made are in honest response to my thoughts about that place. Reality could slip in there, but only as a reference – not as a fact.
“Vase in the Morning Sun” © Mike Jackson As you work on the Luminogram, it also becomes self-referencing. The decisions that you make are based on both yourself and what is in front of you. The marks are made with all other marks in mind – you build up the image as a living fluid thing, everything relating to everything else. The fact that you are using minimal tools means that you are forced to reduce, to be quick and to react on impulse. You have to be very attuned to that inner spark which moves your hand. You have no time to question it – you have to have complete trust in what you tell yourself to do. 
“-12” © Mike Jackson If you attend to the work in this way, you achieve, in effect, a direct link to your intuition, your real self. But it is that link, that strange understanding that you actually can’t understand. It passes through and out. It is a stressful time – like juggling knives – especially as the process that I use has so many steps. One technical mistake ruins the whole thing and you are never able to visit that exact place again. I have dropped sheets of wet paper on the floor, burned them or incorrectly washed them. I work in an old shed, which is perfect, apart from bits falling down off the roof where the sparrows chatter and play – one small bit in my developing tray will ruin a whole piece. And I do feel a real sense of loss when that happens, because what I put into that piece is a struggle and something that I will never be able to do again.