A Numbers Guy with a Penchant for Pictures

BY NELLY EDMONDSON

“From nine to five, I’m a numbers guy,” says Damien Jackson, director of student finance at Einstein. But put a camera in his hand and his inner visual artist emerges.

“Photography allows me to express myself,” explains Jackson. “I’m really an introvert, but my photographs let me give my opinion of things and show you what I think is beautiful.”

He started taking pictures eight years ago, after moving from Atlanta to New York following a divorce. His daughter and son, now 9 and 10, were toddlers at the time, and he wanted a photographic record of their growth and development. Although he travels to Atlanta to see them every six weeks, Jackson is always surprised by how much they’ve grown. “It’s shocking to see how different they are each time,” he says.

Jackson liked taking his children’s pictures so much that he soon broadened his scope and began photographing places and people he encountered. Although he attends occasional photography workshops, Jackson is mainly self-taught. “I just take the camera and go,” he says with a laugh. Moreover, while he thinks technical training can be useful, he believes obsessing over things such as aperture size, shutter speed and exposure times can inhibit creativity. “You have to make sure that you continue to do whatever made you pick up a camera in the first place,” he says.

Jackson is especially interested in travel photography and what he calls “environmental portrait photography”—taking photos of people where they live, work or play that say something about their personalities. “Candid is what I aim for,” he says. “I want you to ‘get’ who this person really is.”

Jackson and his girlfriend recently traveled to South Africa, where he photographed rugged coastlines, animals, school children—and some grim reminders of apartheid, including signs above the entrance to the Apartheid Museum reading “Blankes” (whites) and “Nie-Blankes” (nonwhites).

Back home in New York, Jackson does portrait shoots on commission and has a long-running project under way called “Faces of Fisk,” a compilation of images of people who’ve graduated from the historically black Nashville university since its founding in 1866. Fisk boasts many prominent graduates, including civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois and poet Nikki Giovanni. A 1997 graduate himself, Jackson started working on “Faces of Fisk” several years ago, for the school’s 150th anniversary next year. His goal is to capture 1,866 images of Fisk grads, exhibit the photos in galleries and turn them into a book.

Taking pictures that capture a person’s essence and his day job helping Einstein students fund their studies both involve making positive connections, says Jackson. “I enjoy interacting with students and letting them know we’re here to help,” he says. “And when it comes to taking your portrait, I want to figure out who you are.”

On the Web: www.nedariphoto.photoshelter.com