Maybe it was because he was shot by a riot cannon or that he stood six feet away from an exploding flash bang grenade, but LMU studio arts major Trevor Jackson said that photographing the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles was one of the most exhilarating things he’s done in his photographic career thus far. As an L.A. native and young Black man, Jackson watched his city turn into a warzone, and talked to protestors who had been involved in movements since the 1960’s.
For Jackson, photography is about creating a sense of power within an image. “I started taking photos because I felt like I was in a place where my perspective didn’t matter. Through photos, I was allowed to make something beautiful and highlight my perspective,” Jackson said. “I want an image to tell a story without needing any sort of context. There’s so much going on in daily life – I want to add my perspective and create conversations on issues that are important to me.”
Photographing Family History
Jackson’s passion is starting to turn a lot of heads these days. His recent work has been published on KCET, PBS Newshour and the L.A. Times, to name a few notable outlets. In addition to the press, he has won a Golden Mic Award, Los Angeles Press Club Award and a Los Angeles Area Emmy. Most recently, his work in the L.A. Times was featured as part of a “Hear Me Out” series which highlighted survivors of the Holocaust.
Late last year, Jackson was working with L.A. Times Studio for the “Hear Me Out” series about Holocaust survivors, when he realized the stories were very similar to his own family’s history. He suggested that the producers talk to his great aunt as well.
“It was an amazing opportunity sit down be part of that conversation and talk about our family history to the LA Times,” Jackson said. “Many people don’t have that opportunity to hear about their family history first hand and learn about all the little things that had happened to make their life possible. My great aunt was present, engaged in the conversation and we got to document it in the form of an interview.”
The “Hear Me Out” series of Holocaust survivors was first published in the L.A. Times and then aired on PBS Newshour a week later. Jackson used his great-grandfather’s photo lens for a project – a touch that made the project feel even more sentimental to his family. Jackson’s grandfather was an amateur and enthusiast photographer who inspired Jackson to start photography.
“My grandfather was so skilled at capturing candid moments and photos that seem present in the moment, rather than staged,” Jackson said. “I love walking around and capturing moments in everyday things like spontaneous interactions. It’s rewarding to know that even though a moment is present at one specific time, that I get to translate and memorialize the emotion through a photo.”
Black Lives Matter Protests
It is abundantly clear that Jackson has a talent for connecting with his subjects through the camera. “I had the opportunity to talk to the people protesting and meet them in an intimate way,” Jackson said. “When you see a sea of people, it’s hard to feel connected to it, but when you see the individual people who make up a movement, you see the motivation and tenacity behind the cause. You can’t necessarily see that with every action shot, so I took a lot of portraits.”
In Jackson’s documentary work, he often has only fleeting interactions with the people in his photographs, yet he is able to form a genuine connection with them. “This is one of the things that make his images so powerful,” said Diane Meyer, professor of photography at LMU who has mentored Jackson to get his work displayed in the public sphere. “Trevor has been inspiring to other students in the department to see that they don’t need to wait until graduation to start pursuing opportunities to get their work published.”
Classroom Curiosity and Exploring Los Angeles
Damon Willick, professor and chair of the art history department, said that Jackson is able to relate his studies to life beyond the classroom. In his “LA Now” course in which the students explore Los Angeles’ modern and contemporary art history, Jackson always finds a way to connect his photography and life experience to the class lectures and readings.
“After our lecture about the Watts Towers, Trevor was motivated to visit the Towers with his camera. Not only was this not required of students, but Trevor also took some amazing photographs of the site as well as portraits of a grandmother with her grandson who live in the neighborhood,” Willick said. “This is what engaged learning looks like. I appreciated how his photos captured the Towers, the neighborhood, and dynamism of both.”
Looking to the Future
Jackson’s interests in both photojournalism and documentary work have led him to work on a project at the Compton airport where he has photographed people, planes and architecture. After taking a break from school, then returning to finish his undergrad at LMU, Jackson has learned that he has a sense of personal connection to photography when there’s a narrative that runs through the images. He hopes to continue capturing real stories through photos.
“Leaving school and then coming back brings a new set of experience and determination which has taught me to experience everything I can here,” Jackson said. “I want to take every single drop that this campus has to offer before it’s time for me to leave the Bluff. I also hope to find a way to structure my connection to LMU in way that is ongoing, even I leave.”
All images courtesy of Trevor Jackson.