Photographer profile - JJ Waller
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 May 2020
Brighton photographer JJ Waller, a former comedy performer, brings a sense of humour to his latest series of images picturing the county from east to west.
Brighton photographer JJ Waller has an eye for the unexpected. His photographs are recognisable for their irreverence and their glorious humanity – take, for example, the little girl enjoying a moment with a giant panda on the seafront, or the holidaymaker in his Union Jack singlet, with British bulldog in tow.
“Like most photographers and artists I like to have personal projects to keep things on the boil when there are no commissions,” he says. These projects have become a series of books including five about Brighton. Now he is casting the net wider by embarking on a project documenting his home county coast to coast – from Selsey Bill to Camber Sands. JJ used the traditional picture postcard as a starting point: “I thought there was a gap in the market for interpreting classic Sussex landmarks in my own style,” he says.
Asked what lights his creative fire, he muses: “I want to look at something familiar with a different eye. If I went out to photograph the Seven Sisters, which is a classic British scene, I would be thinking about how I could picture it differently, how I could add to the thousands of pictures of those cliffs. I don’t know what that is until I get there.” In the case of that picture it ended up being a cow chewing its cud in the foreground.
When his explorations took him to Eastbourne, the Towner, with its brightly coloured and striated mural by Lothar Götz, captured his attention. “The picture that is most me includes a lamppost right in the middle of the picture. It’s posing questions, twisting things with a little bit of humour. It could also be to do with the way a light is hitting the subject. A landscape photographer probably has less choice than me – they want to make it look pretty, I want to turn it upside-down and introduce a human element.”
The general lockdown brought by the COVID-19 outbreak has affected every aspect of our lives and it has, of course, interrupted JJ’s project. Next on his list were the beaches at the Witterings and Camber Sands – which he thinks are at their best with crowds of people. Now we face the possibility that they will remain empty this summer, and the project is on hold for now.
He is currently using his permitted daily exercise to photograph Brighton residents through their windows, as a way of documenting this period in the nation’s history. “It’s an ongoing piece of work with people from all different backgrounds: doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers, a new mother – all with different stories of what the lockdown means for them. It’s for people in the future to be able to look at what we’re experiencing and how I’m interpreting it.”