Q&A: J Houston — Tuck and Roll


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I’ve been trying to validate myself more before looking outside. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of artists posting all their rejection letters in solidarity with each other; it’s been a really nice reminder that there has to be more to why we all make work. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in the opportunities others are getting because material resources for artists can be scarce, at least here in the US. Sometimes, you just need one thing to come through to propel your work forward, but waiting for that can feel like a millennium even if it’s just a year in reality. What is it that interests you about photography? I generally can’t draw or paint in an interesting way so there was always a gap between what I wanted to communicate visually or make and what actually happened. Maybe I could’ve closed that gap with practice, but photo was so much more immediate. I had a lot of pain in my teens and used to feel (& sometimes still do) an urgency to share aspects of that isolation. Not to say that photo doesn’t also have technical involvements, but there was a quickness to picking it up for me that nothing else had. What is the worst thing about city life? The lack of oversized parking lots and how important everyone thinks they are! What part of the planet would you like to explore? Honestly, just Florida right now haha. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? I’m not sure if it’s anxiety manifesting or watching too many horror movies as a child, but I definitely subscribe to the idea of ghosts, dark magic, creatures etc. Specifically in the winter when the days are so short, things tend to feel stranger. Pick a field of science to be an expert within. I was an EMT for a couple years (basically the US version of basic emergency medics), but I gave it up to focus on photo and because it was a homophobic and misogynist environment. I feel I could have more agency over my own body within my chronic medical encounters if I had a stronger basis of medical knowledge. It may be positive for my work that I don’t have a very pragmatic view of my health most of the time, but bringing that depth of knowledge into pictures would be cool.

What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? It would have been great to come into making pictures earlier. I just began making photo-related work when I was 19, which is still very early, but there was a lot of medical trauma from the time I was 12 that I wish I had an avenue to communicate. I took some images when I was 20 after a particularly painful post-op recovery that has been the basis of a lot of my understanding of that period, but when I make work about my body, I always wonder if I’m recreating twisted memories from that time. It would be awesome to have a longer archive of 35mm straightforward snaps I could compare or combine this newer more performative work with. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. Working for free feels like a privilege I haven’t been able to access at many points, but if I had to pick, I would dog and cat sit for free. I would even turtle or gecko sit. My work is also often made for no financial gain, but I consider it labor in a lot of ways. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. There are so many, but one book I am always thrilled to see in-person is Thilde Jensen’s The Canaries. There’s this portrait she took (I believe of herself?) naked in the shower with a respirator mask on due to environmental illness, and it looks like a venus-type pose, with a vulnerability in the gaze but cut off primarily by the mask. I think about it a lot! How often do you take other people’s advice? All the time; I finally feel in a good place with a chosen family and strong friends I can trust. I’m always looking to them for thoughts on what’s going on both personally or with freelance situations. What is the best way to educate yourself? I’m sure it’s different for everyone. For me, the best way to learn is to create a community of people interested in similar things, figure out what I bring to the group, and figure out what I can learn from everyone else. Part of that community might be digital or writing-based too.

What is the next book you want to read? Right now, I’m working on reading more magical realism because it’s tied to a lot of the images I respond most to. I’ve loved Isabel Allende since high school, so hopefully more of her stories. I’m also about to start reading Homie, a chapbook by Danez Smith. Most used camera? Definitely my Mamiya 645. People like to tell me all the time that I should get the rz67 instead because it’s ‘better,’ so I think I keep it around both because the proportions are nicer and because I don’t enjoy random men outside my circle telling me how to shoot. What object do you want? So many things — I’m as materialistic as most artists! Right now, I’ve been dreaming about this beautiful clementine-colored rug that has blue flowers and a tacky gold fringe I saw in a store window in midtown the other day. What object do you need? I sleep with this pink, yellow, and gold lava lamp on every night. Even though it’s fragile, glass, and comes apart into like 6 pieces, I’ve moved 4 times with it because it feels like a luxurious necessity at this point. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Definitely not. I started Testosterone recently, though, and my doctor said: “you know you have to work out to get muscles, you can’t just use the T” haha. So my plan for 2020 definitely encompasses the overtired resolution of working out or doing yoga more. Describe a cheap thrill. Listening to Katy Perry. I know she’s the worst, but I can’t help it. Also the jalapeño sauce on Taco Bell quesadillas. Are impulses more important than consequences? For me, yes. I think it can vary drastically based on if there are others involved in your consequences though. Maybe it’s my Aries sun. Which talent would you most like to have? I’ve always wanted to sing and perform. I enjoy the idea of being the center of attention, but I’m actually very bad at singing and get tons of on-stage anxiety. The closest I’ve gotten is doing Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape drunk for karaoke. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? I’m going to answer these questions, maybe go talk to a talk tonight by Merik Goma and Christie Neptune if I finish some applications, probably watch Sex Education (really charming show) and pet my cat Yoko, then wake up and make (a lot of) espresso, help someone out on a shoot, and get food with my amazing friend Gray.

Tuck and Roll (v.); The technique, almost always done while running, involves diving forward in such a way that your shoulder lands on the ground first, and you roll into a little ball. As you come out of the ball, immediately spring back up into a running stance, or move into a kneeling position.

The photographs in Tuck and Roll build a placeless queer community, examining what a utopia could look like in domestic and private landscapes. I center collected objects, hair, performativity, and unfetishized body. Sitting somewhere between reaction and fantasy, I repurpose text from police manuals, photograph chosen family, form new relationships, and pull materials integral to queer nightlife into the daylight.

To see more of J Houston’s work visit — Website / Instagram.