GUEST LECTURE: Jack Boffy

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Jack Boffy joined us at the University of Worcester today for a guest lecture and lively discussion about life after graduation and how to create opportunities for yourself. Including setting up ambitious creative projects, making the most of your final show and University network and walking straight into company offices to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

Plymouth University graduate, Jack, is a photographer with a particular artistic and nomadic edge. He takes his inspiration and subject from putting himself in challenging situations and unfamiliar territories. Graduating from BA (hons) Photography in 2014, he is a VERY recent graduate, at the start of his journey. Only one year on from where students on this module are now, Jack has found that the best way to approach the difficult stage of the final year of University and the scary reality of graduation is to be ambitious, to push your limits and not be afraid to ask.

In particular, Jack talked us through his final degree show work, ‘Allemannstretten’ (which literally translates from its Swedish origin, to ‘everyman’s right’; the freedom to and public right of access to roam, hike and camp in the countryside):

“Allemannstretten is a document of a journey from Bergen, on Norway’s West coast, to Helsinki in Finland, travelling by bicycle. The work portrays a personal journey through spectacular but challenging terrain and the feeling of solitude that accompanies being alone in such a vast natural landscape.” 

Jack Boffy, published on Source: Photographic Review. Here.

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He talked about the inspiration and artistic context for this project, through the photographic work of Olaf Otto Becker and Jem Southam.

It was important to Jack that his own journey was taken alone, by bicycle and through countries he had never been to before. He planned this journey to take him one month, cycling 40 – 100 miles per day. He booked his flights Bergen – UK and Helsinki – UK, packing his £200 bicycle, tent, sleeping bag, minimal clothing, basic camping gear, a 35mm film camera, a Nikon D500, two lenses and a tripod.

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His honest account of this journey was inspiring. Not being able to speak the language, he instead communicated with people he met through gesture, photographs and drawings, and managed to make good relationships with strangers who allowed him to camp on their lawn, stay in their summer houses or even in their homes. These strangers also wrote letters of recommendation in their local language for him to show to others he met on his journey. In cities, like Stockholm in Sweden, he used the website couchsurfer to find places to stay.

He cycled through and camped in mostly remote places and dealt with vastly different climates including blizzards and storms. Embarking on this journey alone, by bicycle, through new territories, on a tight budget and with the risk of the unknown were all important aspects to Jack. He wanted to have an adventure, to push his limits and embrace the unexpected. For him, the harsh environments and difficult situations were when he would experience the most and be able to capture and produce the most interesting work.

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Google images : Bergen, Norway – Helsinki, Finland.

After his guest lecture, he stimulated a lively discussion with lots of questions from students, mostly about the practicalities of setting up this journey and what he will do next. Here is a summary of the questions and responses:

How did you propose this project?
“It had been on my mind for a long time, I was thinking about it a lot. I decided to just go for it after hearing a guest lecture at Plymouth University from artist/photographer Olaf Otto Becker. He talked about his project ‘Above Zero’, where Becker travelled alone to Greenland to take photographs of its glacier landscape. This was a really challenging terrain and climate, he nearly died. He said he often gets asked why he wants to photograph places where he puts his life in serious danger.” (www.amadorgallery.com/Becker_Above_Zero.html)

How did you go about planning it?
“I had a short timeframe to realistically return in time to put together the work for my final degree show. So this meant it could only be a month. I told my tutors that this is what I was going to do. For me, it had to be through countries I’d never visited before and didn’t know much about. I planned a route using a map of Norway, Sweden and Finland, worked out how many miles this journey would be and calculated how many miles I would need to cycle daily to get to Helsinki in time for my flight back. As soon as my student loan came in, I booked my flights, bought a secondhand bike for £200, a basic airbed and camping equipment. I invested in a proper sleeping bag, coat and waterproof bike panniers. I made a couple of arrangements for a few places to stay along the way, mostly in the cities where I knew it would be harder to camp, using the couchsurfer website.”

Did you know what you were looking to photograph?
“At first I had this idea I would photograph portraits of people I met. I had an image of a hunter with a gun in the forrest. I wanted to see wildlife, like wild bears (from a distance anyway!). But this didn’t really happen. I took photographs of things and sights that made me stop in my tracks, like the view from camping on a jetty framed from within my tent, or a house on an small island in the middle of a lake. I had a tactic with photographing people – if I saw someone interesting, I would stop and ask for directions, and then try to communicate (between different languages) that I was a photographer.”

What was most unexpected?
“The friendliness and generosity of the people I met. It felt so different to the UK – people don’t even lock their doors. People really welcomed me into their homes and were very trustworthy and helpful.”

What was most difficult?
“The weather. I was told I was lucky with the weather, it was quite mild for that time of year. But I had a couple of times where I was worried. There was a really bad blizzard that I cycled through. I had to stop and camp up and stayed there until it passed. All of my clothing was wet and frozen and I didn’t have enough food to eat. Also, the isolation. Particularly at the end of the trip, after cycling hundreds of miles, through three countries, when I reached Helsinki it didn’t feel how I expected, because I had no one to meet me and no one to celebrate with.”

Do you think you would have had a different experience if you travelled with someone else?
“Yes. I think if I had travelled with someone else it would have felt more like a holiday. The times that were most difficult would have been easier with someone else. But it would have effected who I met and it would have removed the real highs and real lows that I experienced, and that was what I was looking for.”

What did you select to exhibit for your degree show?
“I had A LOT of photographs, videos and things I collected when I go back. I chose four images to print for my degree show and I made a book publication of more selected images. Importantly, I also chose to exhibit the map I had drawn the route on and that I had carried through the journey and my sketchbook/notebook. I haven’t done anything with the videos yet, and not sure if I will.”

Who is your ideal audience for your work? 
“I guess a magazine editor who will be interested in my work and pay me to go on similar journeys.”

What are you doing now?
“I am currently writing this journey into an article for the magazine Boneshaker, which I came across in the Arnolfini Gallery bookshop in Bristol. The zine’s focus is on journeys by bike, so I contacted them to tell them about my journey and to ask if they would be interested in doing a feature. After a few emails back and forth they’ve asked me to write an article. I’ve since realised that this magazine is sold worldwide, so that’s exciting. I also approached a tent company who make tree-top tents. I found out where there office was in London and went there to introduce myself. I didn’t feel their photographs online were good enough, so I asked them to give me one of their tents to photograph and to pay me for my images. They were sceptical at first, but then impressed by my approach to go directly to meet them. I’ve just taken the first shoot in Cornwall. Soon I’m going to be assisting landscape Photographer Jem Southam on his next project. He was my tutor at Plymouth Uni and we’ve stayed in touch.”

What advice would you give to others graduating from creative University courses?

– Opportunities are hard to come by now, for example, getting sponsorship from clothing or camping companies now for these sort of projects doesn’t really exist anymore, so its about making new opportunities.

– Don’t be scared to ask. It’s really scary to approach people to ask for opportunities, but they will always listen and be impressed if you do this creatively or differently than just sending an email.

– Your final degree show is really important; no other time will your work have so much attention and opportunity from a diverse group of visitors. It’s a chance to sell work, to get noticed, make new contacts and hopefully get future opportunities.

– Interning and assisting with other creatives is really important. This is like specialist training and gives you new networks too.

– Make work that you are passionate about! This will make your work much more interesting for you and for those who see it. It will stand out.

– If you have an idea for a project, stop thinking about it and just do it.

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Written by Rebecca Gamble. Module leader for Professional Practice in Creative Digital Media at the University of Worcester.

All images copyright to Jack Boffy.

Feature (top) image by Dan Hulst. Nice blog post from blogger and creative, who met Jack in Stockholm when he stayed on his sofa after being contacted by Jack through couchsurfer: http://danhulst.com/2014/04/spring-air-step

To see more of Jack Boffy’s work, visit: 

– http://cargocollective.com/jack-boffy

– http://www.source.ie/graduate/2014/plymunivba/plymunivba_student_12_27_52_05-05-14/plymunivba_student_12_27_52_05-05-14.php

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About rgambleworc

Creating Module Blogs for teaching at University of Worcester

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