Finding Stillness On The Road: An interview with photographer, Jessie McCall

Photo by Paavo Siljamaki

Photo by Paavo Siljamaki

Field Notes Interview #74: Jessie McCall, Photographer

Get to know the work and voice of photographer, Jessie McCall and how she uses music as a muse in her photography. Follow us on Instagram to witness her takeover.


Much like film, photography can transport us to a place connected with vivid emotions and move us to act. As an audience, we're able to see through someone else's eyes into their raw, transparent experience. The travel and music photography of Jessie McCall shows the beautiful highs and lows that come with whatever territory she happens to be visiting. 

Often on the road with musicians, Jessie has found how to capture what life on the road is like and how music can both literally and figuratively move us. As a person that's on the road more days in the year than not, her photography moves like a journal, finding landmarks of home along the way. We managed to catch Jessie in between trips to get to know her process and how she's found her artistic voice along the way.

M: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

JM: I’m Jessie McCall, I’m a photographer in Portland, Oregon but was born in the historic mining town of Nevada City, California. I mainly shoot for musicians be it live, documentary or promo photography. I’m inspired by human experience, I love getting to know people's stories and enjoy even more being able to document them. 

M: What was the first photograph you took?

JM: The first photo I took that really inspired me was on a trip to Santa Barbara my sophomore year of high school with my friend Megan and her father. My dad had just given me his old camera and Megan was showing me how to use it. We stopped at the beach at sunset and ran towards the water. I stopped and snapped one photo of Meg bounding into the waves with all of her clothes on. Looking at it now, it’s more of a sentimental image rather than an extraordinary one but I still enjoy glancing at the original print on my fridge all these years later. 

M: How did you get into photography?

JM: I got into photography when I was a little kid. I was always taking photos of my friends at school, birthday parties and field trips with this crappy point-and-shoot film camera. Every time I got a roll back from the drugstore it felt like Christmas -- and still to this day that same sensation remains. I took my first darkroom course my junior year of high school. I had an incredible teacher who went above and beyond to take us on field trips and push us in critiques. I lost my mother to cancer that year and having a creative outlet was one of the many things that kept me afloat. There is something very therapeutic about developing in the dark with your favorite playlist.

M: What makes a compelling story in photography?

JM: In my opinion a compelling photo story connects with the viewer -- it evokes interest or emotion. If it’s photos of a concert, the images should convey the mood of what it felt like to be there. Finding that still of the lead singer belting his guts out, the girls in the front row crying, or the guy in the back of the room slumped against the wall because he had too much to drink. I’ve always been drawn to tell the story I saw, not just the glamorous aspects, but the sloppy parts as well. It’s all about what you want to convey as an artist. You have the power to tell whatever kind of story you want, and what might be compelling to one photographer wont be to another. 

Photo by Jessie McCall

Photo by Jessie McCall

Photo by Jessie McCall

Photo by Jessie McCall

Photo by Jessie McCall

Photo by Jessie McCall

M: What role do you feel music has in art?

JM: Art stems from being inspired and feeling this undeniable pull to make an intangible thing into something visual the world can experience. Art and music are siblings in the sense that they empower one another and were born from the same creative womb. They are both children of the world building a bridge between cultures, and music more so than anything. Today my taxi driver and I connected over the new Adele album on the long drive from Canggu to Ubud. A good soundtrack enhances my creative process -- one song can transport me back to a feeling, a moment of complete clarity. Pair that with a string of photos from the same time period and you have the closest thing to a time machine. 

M: How do you use media to help your career as an artist?

JM: Social media outlets like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook allow me to connect with people and show what I’m up to on a fairly regular basis. I’ve been approached for jobs because of photos I’ve posted on Facebook. Instagram acts as a quick at-a-glance portfolio. In the times we live in, it seems like it’s imperative to always be posting and generating content so people remember you exist. Instagram is an amazing tool where I’ve been able to network with some incredible photographers I wouldn’t have normally been able to know even existed and visa versa. There’s a lot of power in social media but it’s also completely over-saturated.

M: How does travel inform your work?

JM: Travel is one of the most important things I could ever do for myself and my photography. Whether it’s getting out to the [Columbia River] Gorge, traveling to the other side of the country or the other side of the world, when I get out of my bubble I always find something to photograph. Currently I’m in Bali and I’m finding that being exposed to a different culture's way of life is inspiring in itself. People are fascinating, whether I’m photographing world class DJ’s or I’m snapping rapidly from the back of a scooter flying down a dirt road in a third world country. I’m moved by the human experience and when I’m on the road I’m more observant of everything that surrounds me. 

M: What would you tell a photographer just starting out?

JM: I would say be prepared to work hard for not a lot of money in the beginning. Be willing to photo assist other photographers, I have learned lots from helping and watching. Remember that it’s a competitive over-saturated industry -- be kind to other photographers, they aren’t competition, they are potential future collaborators and one of them might be apt to pass off work to you if they’re too slammed to do it themselves. It’s one thing to work for free for friends when you’re just starting out, but remember your work and time are worth something. If you get in the habit of working for “exposure” you’re undercutting yourself and other photographers trying to make a living. 

M: What's coming up for you?

JM: As of right now I have a couple promo shoots lined up and a wedding this summer. Being a freelance artist has such an ebb and flow of work and uncertainty. Most of my gigs last year weren’t confirmed until a week or two before they began. You really need to hustle when you work for yourself. For now I’m enjoying my time in Bali and Australia shooting for me. I’m motivated to work on many more passion projects this summer as well. 

Posted on February 22, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.