Behind the Lens: Jeff Luker

By Nilina Mason-Campbell

New York photographer Jeff Luker is able to capture the American spirit one photo at a time. His engaging portfolio full of wooded areas, open roads, friends and Americana — including everything from buffalo to flags shows off a tightly honed aesthetic of expansive freedom and adventure. His commercial and personal work appear entirely intertwined. Whether it be his commissions for Levi’s, Nike and Harley-Davidson or simply documenting the road trips he partakes in with his friends, he carries a similar spirit throughout. Luker moved east from Portland, Oregon a year ago. However it was from a French island surrounded by the sounds of crashing waves and “reggae playing” that he answered our questions about his background and photography.

What age did you first start taking photos?
Jeff Luker: When I was about six years old I received a Mickey Mouse camera as a gift. It was pretty old school and had one time use flash bulbs. That was about the beginning of my photo taking.

What’s your earliest photo-taking memory?
One of my earliest photo-taking memories is being on a small family road trip and I used to take my action figures around and at rest stops and scenic places I would position them and take photos of them, I was probably about eight years old or so.

Are you self-taught or did you study photography? 
I went to Emerson College in Boston, MA. I studied filmmaking there but I also took some photo courses. That was about the only instruction I ever got in photography, so I guess I am a mix of being self-taught with a little schooling.

What makes a good image in your mind?
What I think makes a good photograph is honesty and intention. I want to see images that me feel like I was there with someone or I know how the photographer felt at that moment in time, the relationship between the photographer and the subject can be seen by what you are shown. I dont care what the photo is, you know it can be a photo of your mom or dad but if it is telling of your view on them or reveals something about their world and I can see you are trying to show this to the world… that is it. I want to see photos that feel like you are telling me a story in your own voice.

How would you describe your photography style?
Someone recently describe the style of photography I take as “the New Romanticism”… I am not sure what that means but it sounds like something. I always say fine art documentary when describing it, though I am not sure what that truly means either.

How did you first come to get noticed for your photography? 
I don’t know if there is one particular thing that got me noticed. I remember building a website and being on blogs at a time when it felt like there was a certain movement among younger photographers to rebel against the sort of digital wave that was happening in photography and it was also when a lot of  younger people had just started sharing their work via the internet and being on collective sites together. Maybe that was it. Just having my work out there and being excited about what was happening.

What’s a favorite recent shoot of your own?
A recent favorite shoot was over in Australia. I think I was just pretty stoked to travel across the world to take photos. It was a fun time.

Your photos of an adventurous spirit to them. How did that come to develop?
Well, I grew up on a small farm in New England and because we had the farm we never traveled all that much as kids. So after school and when I was on my own I just wanted to set out and see it all, and it all felt very new and I just was so excited to take photos of it all and go on adventures.

How do you decide upon shoot locations? 
There are a lot of places I want to shoot, so I have a list of them all and sometimes the right project comes along for where you want to shoot. Other than that, I sometimes just travel somewhere and take photos for my own work.

Who are your favorite subjects to shoot?
Well, I like taking photos of some friends of mine, or mountains, or the sky or maybe a girl if she is right.

What’s your dream shoot?
Lately, I really like the sea. I would like to shoot a project on the shoreline with the waves and all.

What inspires you to shoot photos? Why do you like the medium?
You know it is just a way of seeing. It is nice to be able to show someone what you see and sometimes maybe it is what they see or might want to see. That is what I like about it, it is about sharing your vision.

All images by Jeff Luker