Virginia Woods-Jack walks a wonderful line of deeply thoughtful artist and internationally in-demand, commercial photographer.
Despite being listed with one of the country’s top agencies and working with a portfolio of clients all over the world, English born Virginia has made her home in Wellington, the place she has found best to connect with nature and indulge the visual projects she works on.
Below I took the chance to ask Virginia some questions as a way to better understand the mind of a professional indulging all facets of her chosen medium. I know there are so many other photographers out there who balance the same realities of art vs income, so I hope you enjoy the story of one of your comrades!
Mixed below you also have the chance to view some past work chosen by Virginia, PLUS a scattered peek at her WONDERFUL new collection; ‘The New Botanicals’. You can view it all here or pop in to the Poi Room galleries in Auckland. Selected works and an installation will also be included in the Auckland Festival of Photography satellite group show; “To Shed Some Light” opening next Friday the 2nd of June at the Newmarket gallery. Aucklanders – I highly recommend you check it out you lucky people!
So enjoy a deeper look into the background, thoughts, inspiration and goals of this established artist who represents a very real career journey and structure that many of you out there could strive for.
Above: Virginia Woods-Jack
Virginia, you were born and raised in England. Can you pinpoint when and what it was about photography that captured you?
I was Julia, I was lucky enough to call the beautiful Lake District in the north of England home. I grew up in a large family surrounded by big landscapes, small town narratives and with a big imagination.
My parents owned a children’s bookshop which also sold art supplies and we lived above it. I was always playing in the woods, exploring the river banks and creating stories in my mind. My grandfather was very creative in many mediums and first introduced me to photography, from which point I was captivated and started recording my life and my surroundings in images.
I have always been an observer and a thinker and photography gave me a way to visualise these observations and thoughts. It wasn’t until my early 20’s when I was wondering what to make of myself, that a dear friend suggested that I study photography as I always had my camera with me. That first day in the dark room, watching one of my images come to life in front of my very eyes, I felt a spark of magic and that spark is still with me today.
From art school I worked in galleries and then for a creative talent agency in London working alongside some incredible talent like Greg Williams, Simon Roberts, Tom Craig and Olly & Suzi, helping to manage their careers and them, guiding me in mine. I attended amazing photography festivals, showing my work, garnering more commissions for terrific clients who believed in my vision and who I have continued to work with for a long time now.
“Even though it isn’t always easy, this is where my creative heart lies.”
I have explored a lot of your work and found that I really related to your beautiful, documentary style commercial photography nearly as much as your art based practice!
Tell us a little about your professional career and how creating collections of personal work are balanced by that?
My early years in photography were based purely on my life, my friends, my family, my environment, the beauty of natural light in all its renditions from sunrise to sunset. This helped me develop a strong sense of how I like to work and the images that I respond to which are very observational and considered.
My early commissions were with the weekend broadsheet magazines in the UK like The Observer, The Guardian Magazine, Independent on Sunday etc and I was given the privilege of photographing real people who had stories that demanded an approach that was sensitive and dignified. I learned very quickly that all creative work is collaborative and I love that about the process, it is a coming together to create.
As I tend to work with “real people” I find that the more agency I give my subjects in how they are photographed the better, as then the images present themselves ten fold and all I have to do is capture them. I spend some time observing and then create the scaffold for these fabulous narratives to play out in front of me and my job is to position myself, observe the light and compose the images to tell the story.
Even when I am directing talent, the feeling is always about it being a collaboration. I carry this approach into all my commissioned work and I think it is the best way I can explain how I create real images from a situation that has been set up or staged.
The main difference between my art based practice and the commercial/editorial work, is that I chose my subject matter. Sometimes it feel like the project chooses me but regardless, it always starts with a question or a point of interest that I am drawn to explore!
I love to immerse myself in my projects, research is also a part of this and can come in many guises from film, reading (definitely lots of reading) and then responding. I would say, looking back, that notions of nature, time, place, and personal experience are recurring themes and my hope is that people always feel something when they view my work.
I don’t always limit presentation to a photographic print as sometimes it takes something more to tell the complete story and I love this – I don’t believe in limiting myself. My current works; ‘The New Botanicals’ are a document to the individual and acknowledging all the stages of the life within the natural world. My upcoming exhibition will include photographic prints and an installation of some of the botanical specimens I have worked with to create this series. They’re so beautiful they deserve to be shown and seen alongside their portraits.
Even in my commercial work, I am still a purest in that my images are all created in camera. I expand this to include film based processes in my art practice but I never know at the start of a project what that will be. There is a lot of experimentation and ultimately it is reflective of how I see, feel and respond to my subjects.
“I suppose I would say that mindfulness is key to my practice; I am an observer.”
In my observations I become very attuned to my surroundings, the light, the wind, the sounds and of course, everything I see. My work is a response to this process.
What catches your eye in every day life? If only our lids could be the shutter of a camera!
Golly that is a big question!
If you asked my family they would say everything!
I suppose I would say that mindfulness is a big part of how I observe things.
I should explain that really…. I find that when I slow down and become attuned to my surroundings so many things capture my eye. The shadows of the clouds chasing each other across the hills sweeping down to the sea and out to the horizon, the wind whipping across the breaking waves, light cascading through the canopy of the bush, people bathed in light drawn from the shadows and the small interactions between us all.
I am drawn to all of this – I think we ALL are to a greater or lesser degree.
The quality of light in relation to the environment is such a huge part of how we see things and experience them and it is always changing – so no view, however familiar we are with it, is ever the same and I never tire of this. The light here in NZ is very crisp and clean and then you go to somewhere like Bali and it is softer and richer creating beautiful dulcet tones.
It really is so different wherever you are, you just have to take the time to notice it.
I was recently commissioned to create a suite of images in Auckland and Wellington for the beautiful magazine Lodestar Anthology. I have lived in Wellington for 13 years now yet when I go into my camera and start looking for those images and started observing the way the light is playing with the locations, it is like I am discovering it all over again.
I love this about photography, no two experiences or images are ever the same.
What brands/people do you admire and enjoy following ?
I admire passion and dedication and when this is present it come across quite effortlessly.
I have a huge brand crush on Lonely label and Curio Noir at the moment. They are two NZ brands that are blazing the trail for following your passion and doing so with integrity and amazing attention to detail in everything that they do.
The lingerie campaign for Lonely shot by Harry Were is fabulous, natural and feels like a real collaboration between the brand, photographer and the models who are real women with beautiful bodies. It conveys the message so perfectly that there is no single definition of beauty and the fact that it is all shot on film is damn exciting!
Passion is also the corner stone for Curio Noir, there is nothing hurried or rushed about how their parfums are created, time and love are abound in these incredible scents! If you get the chance to go to their flagship store on Ponsonby Road please do, it is a divine experience and the perfect reflection of who they are.
Golly there really are so many amazing people doing amazing things out there!
Locals I really enjoy are the The Tailors Wife, Rusty Skillet and my recent discovery of Aggie + Au (AMAZING jewellery). Also Twenty Seven Names, Tailor Skincare and the work of TOMBOY! Its great to know that there are so many like minded creative people out there pursuing their passions.
I am also a big fan of beautiful independent magazines like Lodestar Anthology, Rakes Progress Magazine, In Clover, Ernest Journal, Dumbo Feather, Avaunt Magazine… the list goes on but what ties them all together is that you can see the passion behind the publication. They are all born out of a personal love of art, nature, travel, adventure and they draw together people from all over the world who share their passions. The paper stock is exquisite as are the layouts and talent that grace their pages.
I really could go on and on but I can’t not mention Greg Williams along with Olly & Suzi…Long time friends who I used to work with back in London and some of the most incredible creative minds and power houses that I know, yet they are still so generous and just damn lovely people. Have a look at their INCREDIBLE Instagram feeds, I challenge you not to be blown away!
Instagram is quite amazing for finding inspirational work from all around the world. Other feeds I love are Katrin Koenning as she is pushing both the medium of photography and instagram as a platform for sharing it. Nicholas Hughes work on the environment shows total dedication and passion for his subject and the images are always exquisite. And the fabulous work of Freya Najade – as I feel a real resonance with both her subject matter and approach. Very beautiful, uncomplicated and I always stop and look, as that’s what the work so gently ask for.
If you could be looking in the rear view mirror at the entire year of 2017, what do you hope you see?
There are so many fabulous things happening this year that I hope to look back with a big smile on my face with a feeling of excitement for things to come!
I would hope for a successful up coming exhibition at The Poi Room followed by at least one more this year but hopefully two!
I am collaborating on a number of projects with my ever loving partner James. We call ourselves Lightwood and have some exciting projects making beautiful spaces both inside and out for some lovely clients who want something special. I love working with botanicals but with James’ creative talents and outstanding ability to design and build, there is always a lot more than plants involved.
On the subject of plants and all things beautiful Yvette Edwards and I are working more and more together both as a photographer/stylist and photographer/writer duo. She is a dream to collaborate with and we really play to each others strengths. The combination is brilliant and I can see a lot more happening there together.
I also have some workshop ideas in the pipeline with the oh-so-lovely and creative Cathy from Pause Yoga in Days Bay.
I am heading back home to England and via the States with my daughters to see family and friends so I will enjoy that re connection with both people and place as well as meeting some of my lovely new editorial clients face to face!
Lastly, just hanging out with my gorgeous family, hitting the road in our old campervan; Bluebell which we renovated and camping under the stars. Nothing fancy, just simple times doing the things that we love.
There are so many exciting projects being nurtured at the moment and of course there will be those yet to present themselves or be discovered. The best thing is that there really is no rush, this is something I have learned over the years – all these fabulous things happen exactly as they should and when they are ready.
“So here’s to the creative path with all its twists and turns, there is much to be learned from every experience both personal and professional and hopefully I will get to rub shoulders with some of you along the way.”
What I learnt from Virginia:
Take. More. Time.
When looking around at nature, art, light, people, the place you are right now….
far more beauty and magic exists in the places we have become most familiar.