Photographer based in Berlin, Germany
Jakob Eckstein, Self Portrait
Tell us about yourself, what's your background?
I was born and raised near Boston, Massachusetts, but my parents are both German. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer and journalist. That changed when I discovered photography during a period of writer's block when I was 21. I was immediately hooked. Photography was a form of expression that, unlike writing, pulled me out of my head and into the world. I went from never having owned a camera to pulling all-nighters in the darkroom in a matter of weeks, and I never looked back.
"As a first generation American, I grew up straddling two nationalities, two languages, two identities, two worlds. I've always been interested in this hybridity, this in-betweenness. Stranger at Home is my attempt to distill that experience into a photographic sequence."
What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I am still working on finishing the project I just graduated from photo school with, Stranger at Home. It's a project about the experience of dual identity. As a first generation American, I grew up straddling two nationalities, two languages, two identities, two worlds. I've always been interested in this hybridity, this in-betweenness. Stranger at Home is my attempt to distill that experience into a photographic sequence. Although I've already exhibited this work, it's still a work in progress. I'm still on the hunt for a few key images. Once I find them, I'll make a book. Then I can put this work to rest.
Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in a creative practice. What do you do for inspiration?
I love photography because, unlike other media like painting, sculpture, literature, etc. it is literally impossible to make work without engaging directly with the world. A painter can produce masterpieces purely from imagination. A photographer doesn't have this option. And so, when I am in need of inspiration, I try to engage with the world in some novel way. There are endless ways to do this. Travel to a new country, explore a new neighborhood, walk around the block during a snow storm, bike through the city with a new friend. Anything that shakes me out of daily routine and awakens my capacity for childlike wonder.
Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?
My practice is based on my deep belief in the power of wandering around with a camera in hand. I do this virtually every day, often without clear purpose or direction. The aim isn't to take good photos, but to engage with the world in a playful, carefree way. Ideas arise for me either during these wanderings, or from studying the photographs they produce. Analyzing what catches my attention when my mind is free shows me what my subconsious is interested in. I find this to be the most reliable way to find a place to start something new, or to find the next step when I'm feeling stuck.
How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch?
I start by walking, in a new place when possible. My style can be described as documentary or "street", but my approach is always a personal one, like keeping a diary. I arrived at it by buying a small, pocket-sized camera that I could have on me at all times and shooting every single day for two years.
Many artists live by their routines, do you have your own studio or work ritual? What does that look like for you?
My routines follow the light. I shoot most during the summer, least during the winter. I love morning and late afternoon light. But other than that, I have no routines at all, really. I prioritize what my my gut and eyes are telling me above what my schedule says.
Who are your biggest influences?
Lee Freidlander, Larry Fink, Robert Frank, Daniel Arnold, Joel Sternfeld, Peter van Agtmael, Hayao Miyazaki
Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?
All things Ghibli. Recently there have been a few photo theory books that have inspired me greatly: to Photograph is to Learn how to Die by Time Carpenter and Modern Instances, The Craft of Photography by Stephen Shore.
How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?
I want to shoot a lot in Germany's Ruhr region this spring. I plan to use this grant to fund a few short trips there.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Practice, practice, practice.
What is the best advice you would give to other artists?
Buy a compact camera and carry it with you everywhere.