California Soul

Photographer Jerry Buttles captures the glistening heartbeat of America’s West Coast
By Ella Joyce | Art | 1 February 2023

Californian artist Jerry Buttles has photographed the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and A$AP Rocky, shot artwork for Drake’s single Laugh Now Cry Later and captured rich documentary series across Japan and Mexico City for HERO in 2017. Now turning his lens to the West Coast of America, Buttles crafts a portrait of home which resonates with both natives and dreamers alike, inviting viewers to road trip alongside him up the Pacific Coast Highway, into the Californian landscape and lifestyle.

Exhibiting at Ron Herman Japan, Buttles tells us California Soul has been a decade in the making. The evocative showcase comprises a series of striking black and white landscape shots alongside candid portraiture (including one photo of Sonic Youth icon Kim Gordon), encapsulating in his own words; “The feeling of being free, lightness and beauty.” Whistles blow on basketball courts, teenagers skateboard along the promenade of Venice Beach, rims of Cadillacs glimmer in golden sunlight and Buttles is in the midst of it all, camera in hand to capture beauty in the everyday.

Ella Joyce: California Soul is currently exhibiting in Japan, what sparked the initial idea for this project?
Jerry Buttles: In about mid 2022 a good friend of mine named Hisashi reached out and asked if I wanted to have an exhibition at RHJP sometime. I said yes and we then started preparing for the show.

EJ: The series intersperses scenic shots with candid portraiture and close-ups of objects, how did you go about curating the series?
JB: The images in the exhibition have been shot over the course of ten years, and the idea was to show a body of work captured in California.

EJ: What was it that drew you to a particular subject, be it a person or an inanimate object? Are there certain qualities you look for?
JB: A few portraits in the show were captured during commissioned work but they are outtakes, images I felt were more intimate and I wanted to show them. As for the other imagery, I was drawn to the calmness and the feeling they gave me when I shot them. For example, a flower growing out of concrete to me was an example of this beautiful life growing and prevailing the toughness it is up against. The toughness being life and the world we live in.

EJ: The black and white landscape images are really striking as we’re used to seeing the West Coast in sun-drenched hues, was that a conscious decision?
JB: Yes, it was. The light and colour of California is so unique and I feel sometimes with a color photograph the viewer can get lost in the image. Black and white allows room for imagination and a feeling to resonate with the viewer.

EJ: You’ve previously shot series across places such as Japan and Mexico City, how does the environment you’re in alter your creative practice?
JB: My creative practice remains the same, really. I think what differs is things I find interesting in these different places, I still go around with a camera and capture whatever I find that moves me in some way.

EJ: As a native Californian, what impression of the West Coast are you hoping people take away from this body of work?
JB: I hope they have some of the same feelings I have when I look at this work. The feeling of being free, the lightness and beauty they spark in my soul and having no problems in the mind. I hope these images create an atmosphere you can experience.

California Soul runs at Ron Herman Japan until March 8th, check out Jerry’s work here



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