We’re constantly searching for people who use Mextures in a unique and creative manner. Some time ago we came across the work of Jon Kane Houldsworth (@mrjonkane on Instagram) and quickly realized just how unique and creative his work is. Brilliantly combining still photography with cinema, his pieces are both mesmerizing and gorgeous. Over a period of several weeks, we were able to gain a great amouint of insight in to him as a creative and also how he goes about crafting such incredible things. Proceed!
So, an introduction. Where do I start? I was born in the UK but raised in New Zealand where I've lived here in Auckland my whole life aside for a six year stint in Edinburgh, Scotland where I started a career in web development. But it was there that I also began my journey into the world of photography and the motion image after meeting an old school cinematographer that mentored me in the art of capturing light. I learned to shoot on an old Nikon FM2 he gave me before leaving and travelled through Central America with 20 rolls of slide film before coming back to New Zealand in 2003.
I went on to spend a number of years shooting and directing for TV and documentary but through a series of random opportunities ended up going in to business and turned my love of photography back into a hobby. A few years in with a wealth of experience in running my own businesses I now work as Brand Communications Manager for the New Zealand office of a global beverage brand where I get to bring all of the skills that I've aquired into a role I really enjoy.
When I'm not in the garden or doing some DIY at home I'm out enjoying the stunning landscapes of New Zealand. From Auckland you only have to drive 40 minutes in any direction to be in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rolling hills, rugged coastline or tranquil islands off the harbour. My home away from home is Waiheke Island - just a short ferry ride from downtown - vineyards with amazing food and wine, white sand beaches and an eclectic mix of locals and tourists. I love to travel and have been fortunate to experience some amazing places. Through my work I get to travel to Sri Lanka almost every year where the colour, the people and culture are a photographer’s dream.
I should probably mention tea. I'm a huge specialty tea fanatic. It's what got me into business and what I now do professionally but it's a personal passion I have for the diversity of taste, texture and its incredible history and culture around the world. I like a good coffee, as I also love craft beer, whiskey or wine, but tea is what gets me through the day!
Finally, I should also mention my wife, Tina, who I married last year on that gorgeous Waiheke Island. She ends up in the firing line of my camera all too often. Until our first child arrives in May that is. I keep telling her to make sure my Instagram feed doesn't just become baby photos!
Other than having the opportunity to learn and create, what was it that truly attracted you to photography to begin with?
It's something I think about often. I'm someone who is constantly torn between what I do in this world. On one hand I'm drawn to the purely aesthetic nature of photography - an almost selfish addiction to crafting an image. Then at other times I find myself searching for how I could selflessly give back to make a real difference for the human race. When I'm feeling indulgent, it's as if the creative process gives me a rush. Capturing an image feels like the hunt for a rare creature, the art of capturing a fleeting moment of light that will never be seen again. But to simplify those moments down to light alone doesn't do it justice. Each moment of our lives is multi-layered with sensory information and complex emotional responses and the stories they tell. Because of that perhaps we can never truly capture those moments in a two dimensional image alone but I think it's this very challenge that drives me.
When I step back and find myself in a moment of clarity, I realize photography in fact has the ability make a difference. Through those moments of light we can share stories, great and small, and we can offer a glimpse into the hidden moments of our strange existence. I believe anything that can help connect the incredibly diverse and opposing perspectives we all have of the world is a powerful thing. Fear is surely what drives so much fighting in the world, fear of what we can't understand and our need to reject and eliminate what doesn't fit within our own perspective. There are images we can all relate to no matter our backgrounds and beliefs, images that have the ability to break down barriers and remind us wherever we may be that we're not in fact very different at all. I certainly don't claim to create images like that every day but maybe, just maybe, the most unexpected image might do just that for someone out there. A photo doesn't have to win awards and change lives, but it might reward and touch lives.
You’ve sort of stumbled across this unique fitting of still photography with cinema. Can you tell us about how that style came about?
I've always been drawn to the power of the motion image, which is essentially just a series of still images. I know that sounds obvious but it's easy to forget it's that simple. There's magic in a single image frozen in time, the ability for it to also leave something to the imagination and there's a refreshing dose of reality to the motion image in its ability to play back something closer to what we see every day. I first came across this style known as Cinemagraphs on Instagram. Scrolling through posts you'll see an image that appears as a still photo such as a beautifully shot model but just as you heart it and go to scroll again a hint of movement within that image, like the hair gently blowing in the breeze, catches your eye and you have to double take. The ability for that to catch a viewer’s eye along with the introduction of autoplaying videos on social media is a big part of why it's really taking off amongst marketers but for a purely creative perspective it appealed to the videographer and photographer in me at the same time. I soon found that beyond laboriously creating Cinemagraphs in Photoshop most of the best were being done using Cinemagraph Pro by a company called Flixel who makes the software for Mac and iOS, so I jumped straight onto it. With Cinemagraphs you treat it as a still shoot. I'm still trying to capture a beautiful frame with my gorgeous Leica glass on my Panasonic GX7 or a GH4 but you've got one eye on the movements within that frame, something that will loop nicely no matter how subtle. Trying to spot movement that can be easily isolated from the background is the idea and shooting on a tripod or still surface is key because in the software you essentially mask the area of movement and a shaky frame will reveal the edges of the mask. Once you get the hang of it your eye becomes trained to see unique ways to capture motion and stills together. With the introduction of 4K video on cameras like this you now have 25 frames per second that are big enough to choose from and print if you wanted to as well. Take it to the top end and you have cameras that are shooting high speed 4K frames in a RAW format so you have an unbelievable amount of information to color grade in post and that technology is working its way in to prosumer and consumer technology now so the future for this format looks very interesting indeed.
So around the same time as I was creating my first Cinemagraphs on my iPhone I also discovered Mextures on Instagram. Many of the photos I was drawn to had the one hashtag in common, #mextures, so it wasn't hard to find my new favourite photo app and pretty soon it was consistently used on all my still photos. The results were just stunning. Even the subtlest adjustments brought that hint of magic to my images and the journey of discovery is simply endless. Meanwhile, I was only beginning to dabble with Cinemagraphs but I think like many people a bit hesitant to start posting what is still essentially a video on my feed. With a growing community I was worried I might lose the engagement or followers I had carefully built up. I later came to realise that Cinemagraphs are still so close to a photo that my fears were unnecessary.
But, going back briefly to what I said about building community on Instagram, I'll touch on my philosophy if I may. I don't criticize how others go about it but personally I choose to treat it as building community, not just followers. I try and follow back those who connect with me, and having followed others I stay loyal. However, I actively unfollow those who choose to disconnect because I see community as a two way thing. If I ever get to some sort of follow limit I'll remain loyal to those who stay connected and reasonably active. That's something I really liked about the Mextures community. There's a really good vibe around learning and sharing formulas and techniques and the more I got into Cinemagraphs and the Flixel community I found the same. But I was left wishing there was a way to bring that magic of Mextures to my Cinemagraphs.
How did you begin using Mextures on your Cinemagraphs?
Having a hint of an entrepreneurial streak in me, I always like to learn about the people behind the really good tools I use so I found my way to www.merekdavis.com, having also seen his inspiring personal work on Instagram. I was fascinated to see he also had sets of high res Mextures packs for Photoshop available and so the penny dropped in more ways than one. I bought some of my favourites to see if I could bring those sets into Adobe Premiere instead of Photoshop! I laid a few straight onto the timeline over one of my Cinemagraph videos and adjusted scale to fit, chose a blendng mode like Soft Light and I think I actually swore out loud with excitement as I realised how well this was going to work! I even ended up resizing all the square format images in the packs to Video scale (1920x1080) and putting them into project bins so I can easily select them on different projects.
My process begins with importing the unedited clips from camera straight into Premiere, trimming them to a rough length I know I can get a good loop from, and then applying Mextures (as well as one other favourite called FilmConvert) before rendering them as an MP4. I then run that clip through the Cinemagraph Pro software to create the final Cinemagraph which, as a single loop, ranges between 2-6 seconds. So I save a copy that loops it as close to 15 seconds as possible for Instagram at 1920x1080 resolution and upload everything to my Flixel gallery where they can be viewed in brilliant high definition (Flixel Profile).
With Cinemagraphs we're creating the illusion that what you are seeing is a photo. Some of the existing Mextures packs wouldn't really suit regular video where the entire frame has movement because the static nature of the Mextures layers (like Grit and Grain) would become obvious. For motion images you would typically apply 'dust and scratches' effects to make it look like old film where a hair or dust got stuck in the gate of the camera and jumps around on the image. However, what I realised is that by applying a mask over the specific area of the video that will remain in motion, inversing it and adjusting the feather I can still get all those beautiful looks from Grunge, Grit & Grain and Emulsion around the areas that will remain static like a still photo. The use of these old film looks is often divided with many purists questioning why we would want to add imperfections to beautifully clean digital images. I'm sometimes torn on this myself but I've come to realise that photography is not about the technicalities of the creator and whether it's edited or not, it's all about the viewer. The moment at which I stop layering Mextures and effects is when it's no longer adding to the story and for me story in an image doesn't have to be as black and white as words on a page. it's often the ability to stimulate the viewers imagination, like a book it can be fiction or non-fiction. I guess like many things the art is knowing when to stop, It's as much about what we don't show as what we do.
I recently read about the Pictorialism movement that thrived from about 1885 to 1915 in "a response to claims that a photograph was nothing more than a simple record of reality" (Pictorialism). It feels as though that movement has resurfaced online and, digital or not, so much of what I see from Mextures artists reminds of Pictorialists for whom "...a photograph, like a painting, drawing or engraving, was a way of projecting an emotional intent into the viewer's realm of imagination." So for me Mextures is the perfect tool for Cinemagraphs in creating this illusion of a still image. A hint of grit, a touch of scratch or simply a flare of light and color that stimulates the imagination of the viewer - that in itself is story. It's magical realism.
What do you think has been your favorite piece to create so far?
I would place some of my recent "Overgrown Series" up there. Not only because they illustrate how well Mextures can blend into the Cinemagraph style but because for me personally they are visual poetry which I can almost view with that sense of wonder I usually only get from other people’s work. I could happily watch these on my HDTV (Flixel has an Apple TV app for that) and let them run endlessly like a window into another world. I'm quite excited to see what might come with this style on wall displays in the future too. It's almost like the magical moving pictures on the walls of Hogwarts!
This cinemagraph would be my current favourite. Taken amongst the long grass before I mowed my lawn with enhanced hues and the dried crackled feel of summer around the edges from 6 layers of Mextures (including a few that are not in the Mextures App), some of which use masking to selectively apply looks. A number of my works extend into being simply a video loop where the motion has not been isolated but this one is very much a Cinemagraph because everything but that one faint silhouette in the background is motionless. It's the subtlety that often works best.
Some of my recurring layers would be Radiance/Daybreak for an all around warmth and atmoshphere, Atmoshperic/Insidious for mood, Anomaly/Effigy which I blend in Colour Dodge to bring out highlights like a streak of light, Vintage Gradients for Vignettes, Grunge/Blueberry Peach is great for giving edges of the frame some character and Grit & Grain/Sandblasted blended in Screen mode for some subtle scratching.
What have you found motivates you to continue creating? Maybe not simply to create but to delve further into your talents and abilities.
Sometimes I secretly dream of simply being an 'artist', on the one hand to create for nothing but my own pleasure or for the hope that my work might reward and inspire others in ways I don't even know. What drives me to continue creating day to day is the thrill of the hunt for those elusive moments of light and life. What drives me to continue creating medium term goes beyond what I can create with each individual image and into the possibilities of what I can create with my body of work as a whole and the opportunities I might find on that journey. If I really dig deep perhaps long term it's the need to leave something behind - a record of who I am and the way I saw the world. Mextures has become part of that journey and something that continues to excite me. Every time I get a great shot I can't wait to drop some Mextures on it! I'm driven by these creative collaborations and where they might lead.
I'm fortunate to enjoy what I do for a living and don't see myself becoming the struggling artist just yet! Which brings me to an exciting direction I've begun to take with my Cinemagraphs. For some time I considered putting my stills work out there on stock websites but I got the feeling it's such an overcrowded space that I never took it further. But a boutique agency in New York called Come Alive Images got in touch having seen some of my Cinemagraphs and asked if I would be interested in joining their roster of motion artists putting selected works through their stock library. I had a really interesting chat on Skype with their co-founder, Joe, and learned that they're focused entirely on the growing demand for visual loops from beautiful HD Cinemagraphs to quirky gifs that their clients can license for web, broadcast, display screens etc. He said that it's often the artistic and quirky works that can do really well and not necessarily the cliched stock imagery. That inspired me, realising that over time I could continue creating and potentially earn from it. I now have about 40 works listed through them, linked from my artists profile (Come Alive - Jon Kane Houldsworth) and I hope to do the same through Flixel and their recent launch into stock Cinemagraphs through Shutterstock.
So suddenly my drive to create has moved into a new gear. Along with a motivation to post a new Cinemagraph daily on Instagram, it forces me to seek new ways of capturing the world around me in unique ways. It pushes me to 'make time' for creativity in an otherwise busy life and, to be quite honest, if I can earn a little something my wife (who is pregnant with our first child) will be more supportive of my photography addiction and the money I spend on nice new lenses!
Who are the people that have genuinely inspired your work and your creative process?
What inspires me is so often unconscious and the thousands of photos I've liked on Instagram have probably influenced my developing style in some way. As a small cross section the following come to mind:
I first discovered Mextures through the work of someone I follow on Instagram so I have to give credit to Jarryd Watson (@____rod_). I just love the feeling in his images, often shot on film. They have a beautiful stillness to them. More recently I saw the work on the Mextures Journal by Hirosh Ito (@to_hi) which has inspired some of my more recent macro shots. His work transports you into a magnified journey of unseen worlds and I'm a huge fan of the Japanese aesthetic of Wabisabi which his work reminds me of. Likewise through the journal I was really drawn to Masha Dizdar (@prozdrljivac) and I'm still trying to figure out how to bring that level of artistry to my work. It's funny because so much of my work is quite colourful and often subtle but I'm personally drawn to these more muted and multi-layered images.
There are some really talented people out there making Cinemagraphs - from enthusiasts to professional cinematographers. I'm a total foodie so the work of Daria Khoroshavina from Moscow (@KitchenGhosts) simply makes me crave whatever she artfully renders in this medium! Sherif Mokbel of Dubai (@SherifMokbel) inspires my dream of being able to create such glamorous work and someone who is like my Hirosh Ito in the Cinemagraph world is Anthony Samaniego (@AnthonySamaniego) with his dreamy tones and hints of motion.
The more I learn about the Pictorialist photography of the later 19th and early 20th century, the more I want to delve further into motion images with the same aesthetic and emotive intent. From the still life or portrait work of Adolph de Meyer to the painterly moods of Robert Demachy. But that will take time to explore in motion!