Jacob James is a travel and documentary photographer and filmmaker. He recently travelled to Ukraine with co-director Ruslan Tolkach to document the vibrant youth culture. His gear? The LUMIX S1. ‘This camera is great for video as well as photography. The dynamic range and low-light performance make it a very versatile camera that is well equipped for a whole range of conditions.’ It’s perfect for a country like Ukraine, where I went to document the clash between the remnants of the Soviet culture and modern Western influences.’
Jacob went to the Ukraine to put the LUMIX S1 to the test. ‘The idea was to make a video about freedom of expression, the freedom to be able to be who you want to be.’ It’s an important theme for the youth in the Ukraine. ‘A revolution has been underway in Ukraine since 2014. Many younger people there want to be closer to Europe and the EU, and are demanding a more liberal political approach. You can see these changes in everyday life. For example, Kiev now has one of the biggest club scenes for techno music, after Berlin. The shift to Western culture is also reflected in fashion, music, dance, tattoos and sexuality.’ The film is about all these different aspects, the ingredients of youth culture. ‘You can see these subjects from a wider perspective, but it’s not an in-depth documentary. We wanted to try and use the visuals, music, colours and types of shots to give the viewer a sense of the feeling of freedom and of those who live outside the norms of society.’
This project was the first assignment he did with the LUMIX S1. ‘Before this, I used the GH4 and GH5/GH5(s). This camera is great, especially the low-light performance. The dynamic range is very good as well, enabling beautiful highlight roll off. It’s perfect for this video, where we shot in many different conditions. To vary the type of shots (wide and close), we used different kinds of cine lenses combined with a PL adapter from a company called C7Adapters. It worked perfectly and the adaptability of the L-mount is one of the camera’s strong points.’ It’s not only photographers who like to work on their raw images to get the best results. Filmmakers also like to tweak their output. The V-Log update makes this easier to do. ‘You can really set the tone, colour-wise. Besides the images, colours and music are essential to create more depth and emotion in your video. They help to enhance feelings.
The freedom of making a more experimental film instead of a documentary is that you can play with these elements to emphasise the message or feelings you want to convey.’ Jacob is a filmmaker as well as a photographer. Why did he decide to do both? ‘I started filming when I switched to LUMIX cameras. I like the combination of the two. With photography, you’re capturing the moment in a split second, with video it’s more about working out how to tell a longer story, to share a feeling or emotion, because you’ve potentially got control over much more: colour, light and music. You have less control in photography, especially in documentary photography, where you’re photographing on the go. My photography keeps on improving thanks to filming and vice versa. In my photography I’m a better storyteller now thanks to the experience I’ve gained making films.
Now I try to include and convey as much story and emotion in my static images as I can.’ The trip to Ukraine is just one of many he’s made to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. ‘My first trip was to Romania. Since then, I’ve been to Bulgaria, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and many more places. These countries fascinate me because of the clash between the fading Soviet culture and more modern influences from the West. The countries all have their own characteristics, but the clash is what they have in common. To me, people and cultures are far more compelling than exotic colourful worlds. I’ve been to India, for example, which is an incredibly fascinating country but for me there’s a difference that goes beyond the initial visuals and is deeper engrained in the psyche of a place. You can’t find this combination anywhere else.’
Jacob James is a UK-based, internationally published travel and cultural documentary photographer. Jacob’s work has been published in well-known photography journals in the UK and elsewhere and has also appeared in numerous exhibitions and books. He has worked with a number of clients across Europe and Asia including the Austrian and Hungarian tourism boards and is available for global assignments. Jacob is currently working as an ambassador for Panasonic UK, Manfrotto and X-Rite.
Jacob is also an active photo educator and keynote speaker. He presents talks and seminars at some of the world’s biggest photographic exhibitions and events, runs photography workshops, and regularly writes photography tutorials and about his travels.