Cameras — Tools of the Trade

“Our job is to tell stories. Our tools for telling them are cameras. Which is funny, because the best stories always happen in the moments when people forget that we’re holding cameras.”

Jonathan Chapman, Photographer

How would you describe your work?

Story-telling, documentary based photography and film-making. I work with both models / talent as well as “real” subjects for commercial and advertising based clients. Much of my work is personal as well, self designed projects myself and the team put together. These projects are often centered around subjects or spaces we sense have a rich story to tell.

How did you get started in the visual arts?

It began with a black and white photography class early on in college. My older brother encouraged me as he had taken the class and I was quite influenced by him. Seeing those first images come through in the dark room, I thought they were exceptional. But I soon realized it was more the magic of the process than the imagery I was capturing at that point.

Your style is very original – how did it develop, and how do you tailor it for each client?

As a student at the University of Minnesota I worked for the MN Daily, which was the paper for the University. I cut my teeth on photojournalism and my style developed out of those early assignments. Over the years I’ve refined my approach and style, but deep down I am always after that unconventional angle, jockeying to get the front page splash. 

Can you tell us about your creative process?

It’s mostly an organic approach while on set and largely collaborative with the client, creatives, and crew that surround me. There’s a natural flow that ultimately provides the freedom to explore a scene to capture the unexpected. I work with a close knit team who always have my back. I welcome their ideas based on the scene or past projects we’ve all learned from.

What interesting projects have you worked on? 

Projects range from a children’s hospital patient short film profile to advertising campaigns for McDonald’s, Samsung, and Purina. We often shoot editorial portraits and various magazine features as well. We were in Cuba not long ago for a personal shoot and photographed / filmed five different stories that we are looking forward to releasing. 

Who else’s work has influenced or inspired your work?

I am most drawn to photographers and filmmakers who work with a photojournalistic / documentary approach. Less emphasis on elaborate lighting set-ups, story-boarded concepts, or pre-conceived planning. They seem to arrive on the scene, spontaneous and inspired by the environment, subject, and setting. Antonin Kratochvil was an early influence on the photography side. Terrence Malick’s abstract sensibilities around story and filmmaking is something I strive for in my own work. Vimeo is a site overflowing with inspiration. It’s humbling to see all the talent. I always take away new ideas and come away inspired to try something new.

What areas of your work are you hoping to explore further?

Continuing to refine short form narrative stories (stills and motion). This work excites myself and team and always inspires new clients regardless of the brand they represent. There are so many stories that exist in the world. It’s a constant state of wonder and depth through people and places. This is what keeps the fires stoked and an excitement to head to “work” each day.  

To see more of Jonathan’s work, visit:

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