Q&A: Jay Wolke


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? Getting younger until getting older. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Our level of greed and short sidedness? That we had running water and electricity? Or maybe how we could live without flying cars? Are you aware of any conspiracies? All the best ones are secret. What is it that interests you about photography? When it’s done well, it demands that people see well. What is the worst thing about city life? Segregation. 
What part of the planet would you like to explore? North Africa. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? Rivers of blood flowing from the fireplace of a house erected over the prehistoric burial grounds of the dragon devil. 
If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? I’m not a big follower. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Cognitive neuroscience. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? Considering the ubiquity of photographic technology and the flood of images created every day, perhaps the better question is: what moments have you chosen to ignore, even though you always have a camera? To this, I say, “ all the meals I’ve eaten”. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side.
I guess, teaching photo. Maybe gardening. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. In 1979 I remember seeing an image of Io, moon of Saturn, that first showed us volcanic activity on another body in the solar system. How often do you take other people’s advice? At least once a day. Describe a personal hell. Stuck in a room with ignorant and boring people. Which living person do you most admire? My wife Avril.

On what occasion do you lie? Holidays. What was the last crime you witnessed? A couple of days ago an old man hit me with his cane when I was scanning a wall on the exterior of his building. What is the best way to educate yourself? Ask all the questions you can think of, then get off your ass and answer them. What is the next book you want to read? Just started “The German War” by Nicholas Stargardt. 
Ultimate camera? That one. 
Most used camera? Sinar F, IPhone, Wand Scanner. What object do you want? Heavy bag. What object do you need? Same. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? A way to share parts of your life that you would never want others to know, and yet you feel compelled to do so– immediately– and it’s irrevocable! What was the question, said the man from the 50’s? Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength?Pretty much. Why, what have you got in mind? Describe a cheap thrill. Cycling the streets of Chicago. Pick an historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. Being at Dallas airport the night Kennedy was killed? Are impulses more important than consequences? Of course. Which talent would you most like to have? Great memory. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? The big event is final crits in my Documentary Methods Class at Columbia College Chicago. Great work!

Jay Wolke is an artist and educator living in Chicago Illinois. His photographic monographs include: All Around the House: Photographs of American-Jewish Communal Life, 1998; Along the Divide: Photographs of the Dan Ryan Expressway, 2004; Architecture of Resignation: Photographs from the Mezzogiorno, 2011 and Same Dream Another Time, 2017. His works have been exhibited internationally and are in the permanent print collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco MOMA, among others. His photographs have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, Geo France, Exposure, Newsweek, Fortune, and the Village Voice. He is currently a Professor of Photography at Columbia College Chicago. See more of Jay Wolke’s work — Website / Instagram.