Interview with Robert Jackson
G2K: Please describe your photography genre.
RJ: These photographs document my travel and personal interests. They explore the complicated relationship between society, frontier, and wilderness, and I concentrate on people living in mixed societies and the ruination left by ancient civilizations. When I go on an excursion, I usually make a general plan of what I hope to see, familiarize myself with the historical and social nuances where I will visit. But then allow the creative process to capture and interpret what I see without being overburdened by my own objectives. I try to leave the aesthetic discourse of realism or symbolism for when I am home and have more time to think.
G2K: Where do you travel for your photography?
RJ: In the United States I love to travel in the deserts of the West where I explore and photograph nature. I have also long been drawn to East Europe. The eastern metropolises, such as Kiev and Kharkiv, have been perfect cityscapes filled with a certain patina that must be appreciated up close. Bulgaria and other places near the Mediterranean have allowed me to focus on an interesting puzzle about ruination, about the relationship between the presence of something in the past compared to a relatively sudden absence now. In general, I am drawn to any place with a dynamic history, a people that question identity, and sometimes rough logistics.
G2K: Please tell us about the three photographs you have submitted. What kind of camera did you use?
RJ: The three photographs are examples of my work. These were all taken here in Ukraine with a lensless camera that I designed and built for creating several minutes’ long, wide angle exposures in the daytime. You can see in these examples how I am interested in combining so many of my interests mentioned: culture, ruination, society, and history. They are very different from what we can see with our eyes. We cannot visualize a 130 degree angle of view, nor the shape of a cloud or person moving through time.
G2K: Tell us about your political science articles.
RJ: For my MA, I submitted many papers on liberal democracy, post communist regimes, and challenges to democratization and Europeanization in the Eastern Bloc. In my thesis, I argue that there is a direct relationship between so called “competitive authoritarianism”, a post communist phenomenon, and the dramatic rise in organized crime. I am working now on a broader question about corruption and rule of law, considering tension between historical and social legacies and external influence. Look at Bulgaria’s recent Mafia shooting. These are highly public affairs, broad daylight, civilians at risk. Why has there not been a single conviction?
G2K: Where have you lived and worked previously before moving to Kiev?
RJ: Last summer I moved from Kharkiv where I worked in the Human Rights Protection Group. Before that I was in Bath, UK, and Prague, Czech Republic, doing research and studying. I have worked at a few organizations mainly on the question about the security interests of the state and the human rights interests of society. Each group has extraordinary demands of the other in any society. I am working towards being more directly involved in development missions, for example with OSCE.
G2K: Can you share a story that would illustrate an experience with a human rights dilemma?
RJ: I prefer not to single out a particular place. I think in the East as well as the West there is a struggle to grasp the de facto value of human rights. The tendency for the state is to forbid actions, whether explicitly or implicitly so, and this has a grave consequence on creativity, economics, etc. A central question for human rights activists is how to create a liberal society? Propaganda, historical legacies of oppression, cultural norms, and much more, all must be measured when working toward an open society.
G2K: What books are you currently reading?
RJ: My travel book without hesitation is The Danube by Claudio Magris. This book is a literary and philosophical journey along the Danube – perfect for thinking while looking out the bus window. Also I was recently given Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, which is an anthropology and cultural history of the Roma. This book makes a compelling argument for the Roma as a final bastion in the ancient tradition of migration waves throughout the world. It also illuminates their plight of being an outsider or émigré.
G2K: What do you like best about living in Kiev?
RJ: Ukraine is a paradise for my personal and professional interests. It is a focal point and proving grounds for much European policy, it has an extremely hospitable and friendly culture, and fascinating landscape. In Kiev, I am constantly busy, learning from so many interesting people.
Robert Jackson’s website is at www.rjjackson.com
where you can view his black and white photography as well as read his political science essays about post communist countries and the transition to democracy.