t 4:15am, in the quiet solace of dark before sunrise, Jody Bailey does his best work. Input is output and by 9:00am, he’s put in his work for the day, making time for meet ups, collaborations, photo shoots, for whatever; for a jaunt down Jasper Ave, his favourite place to “play in traffic.” He sees the world around him at a micro level, making curious observations about people and the stories their lives tell.
Fascinated and moved by the emotional reactions other people have while doing life, his camera seems to find the intimate emotional moments his subjects have with their own thoughts as they strive to perform. He often talks of his status as a spectator through a scientific lens, almost like he was an alien just visiting earth for observation purposes. But I found the opposite true. Story after story revealed his intense focus on collaborations; he’s magnetically drawn to community and the part he plays in it.
Though the invoked image of a tiny isolated island floating quietly in the mist describes his personality in part, his genuine happiness for other people’s success in the community he’s found in Edmonton speaks volumes about his true centre. He’s found a family of sorts, naming each and every person who’s made an imprint on him, recalling his affection for them by listing each and every one of their accomplishments. He’s come to love this community, and would be just as happy sitting back watching them succeed, marvelling at their creations, as he would reach out for his own benefit.
At any given moment, you can most likely find Bailey somewhere doing something on his bike. A photographer, a scientist, a restless adventurist, an arbiter of road side justice; he’s quite singular, tracing constellations on a mental map, charting courses based on those trajectories, pivoting in a new direction when necessary. One can only guess what is going through his mind at any given moment, but the best thing about Jody Bailey: Ask him and he’ll tell you, uninhibited.
BANDWIDTH ERA sat down with Bailey to engage in some observation of our own: a fitting way to describe a conversation with a serial ‘absolute beginner’.
Which colour best describes you a) Red: passionate and unpredictable b) Blue: Melancholy and introspective c) Yellow: Irrepressible and inquisitive d) Green: Formidable and grounded?
I’m super passionate and a really logic based thinker, but those don’t inherently go together often! I would say I’m purple, a mixture of all of them.
What three things can’t you live without?
Learning, a bicycle, and people – without people there wouldn’t be any good stories! If I’m the last character in an apocalyptic movie, that’s going to be a really shitty movie because I’d be pretty boring. [Laughs]
Favourite biking route in Edmonton?
Honestly, Jasper Ave! If I’m having a bad day and need to relax, I’ll get on my bike and come up from 100 St., down to 109 St. or 124th St. and just play in traffic! [Laughs]
Do you find you do a lot of your thinking when you’re riding?
Yes. On my bike it’s automatic. My heads moving, my eyes and ears are taking in information, but my inner mind is free to just roam so it’s meditative, as crazy as that sounds. I can turn everything else off and let my subconscious chew through the hard work.
When it’s 4:15am and the entire world is still asleep, what do you get up to?
J: Giving that small amount of labour I need to put in specifically for money to pay for things that I want or need. Filling Maslow’s hierarchy, that’s my baseline.
BW: What about 4:15am in the morning; do you like the insular aspect, the quiet?
J: Yeah, I realized that’s my most productive time. I really enjoy the solitude, the darkness. I know the rest of the city is sleeping and that energizes me. When the city does wake up, I’m free throughout the day to have meetings and do things I want to do, meet with people that I want to on my time. If I can get all my labour out of the way before [9:00am], I’m set.
What is the first piece of advice you ever received that influenced your decision to lead a mobile life?
I don’t think it was advice; it would have been through observing. Looking back and putting things together, I didn’t have the same [emotional] reactions to things as others; in order to have reactions you have to learn them. In order to learn them you have to observe them. I had a really interesting childhood that I have visions of in my head, memories that didn’t make sense until I put it into this framework.
I’m on the autistic spectrum; it wasn’t debilitating to the point where it got diagnosed but it was definitely there. We lived in the suburbs and my dad always worked when I was a kid, so I started to connect these dots between labour and time and the ability to do things that I wanted. At 12 years old I got my first paper route. It turned into two paper routes and then two paper routes and a flyer route because I was trying to release that burden from my parents of having to provide for me (at the time not consciously aware of it).
I’ve always been very independent; being dependent on people is still one of the things I still struggle with, something I have to work on constantly as an adult. Often I’m freelance, and I live a very small life because needing less stuff gives you the freedom to do the things that you want.
You’re A Self-labeled ‘Data Geek’, how does your programming background correlate with sports photography?
J: I started as a sports photographer in 2003 or 2004, and began to realize there’s a pattern to it by studying other professional photographers and learning the variables (cameras only have three variables, plus light) …I got good at it fast, because I was really able to tap into that emotion of the athletes. I’ll go to a game, and I know the three athletes I’m shooting almost instantaneously because of the passion in them; you can see it in their eyes, in their warm up, in their preparation.
Never wanting to take the same shot twice, I began experimenting with angles, breaking down games into variables – a very scientific approach. I use this approach to life: understand all your variables and then change one at a time to make things better.
That interest led into overclocking, which is an obscure sport of drag-racing computers, basically.
BW: I had no idea drag-racing computers existed! This wasn’t post secondary education; this was just you tinkering around?
J: [Laughs] Nobody does! It was just me tinkering around with computers to learn how to trouble shoot when things went wrong so I didn’t have to pay somebody to do it. I got into the subculture of overclocking and found a competitive outlet. It was mostly marketing based; manufacturers of motherboards, video cards, processors, Intel and AMD started tapping into the market to promote and started holding their own competitions. We were doing it in forums online ourselves and they gave us a venue for it. Its not as big as the gaming sports, but its getting there. There’s major sponsorship now. I spent probably four years, got into a world-class level; I was the best in Canada for a while, a whole other life! [Laughs]
It was just a passion to explore and learn. To use variables, changing one at a time to make something better, that’s what photography is.
I didn’t necessarily go looking for rabbit holes as a kid, but I definitely make up for that now [laughs]. Three of me and 48 hour days wouldn’t be enough time to go down all the rabbit holes I want to, I just love exploring and learning!
BW: And if you can separate the outlier emotional aspects that aren’t helpful…
J: Yeah, that makes it easier. I think that’s why sports were always something that I really got. There wasn’t anxiety or nerves…there wasn’t pressure because to me it was always just a game.
That’s the definition of winning at life! Its not going to be all perfect that way…
J: Yeah, it’s not all beautiful. It can be full of frustration, full of that. I’m a serial absolute beginner; going from nothing, tinkering to see if I’m actually as interested as I think I am, and then getting to a point of mastery.
Patrick Fulton, a web developer in Pittsburg, did a 15 minute lightening talk at a conference a few years ago and that was the first time I heard the term ‘absolute beginner’. It was like, ‘ooh, that explains me!’ I thrive on going back to zero with something I’m learning from the ground up. I have a four year cycle where I get to mastery level with something and then need to start new somewhere else.
Yours is a life in motion; what stories are you hoping to tell with your photos?
I want tell stories that I think make the world a better place and of passionate people. Supporting passionate people by telling their story, getting them more exposure, but also hopefully influencing others to put a flag in the ground.
I landed here in Edmonton about four years ago and saw an environment that was willing to accept passion and let it grow; Don Iveson was running for mayor. I got a front row seat watching all of these creative’s support an entire community.
What do you see when you look at your own work?
J: I see growth, those little steps. I did a shoot for Lulu Lemon once and so it was about clothing, the River City Runners group and the city; they wanted Edmonton in the background. But what I ended up capturing, what my most powerful images were; those internal moments that people have as runners.
BW: So you’re subconsciously drawn to the sub-text of emotion in others.
J: Yeah, my camera sees it; my camera gets it, whether I’m conscious of it or not. I was capturing emotions and conscious thoughts in peoples faces, in their postures, in their stride, the peak of the action.
BW: I think a lot of photographers have their art, and their unintentional art…
J: Yeah, and that’s the mastery part. I’ve always had a knack for it, but now its more intentional.
What do you use for gear to best capture motion?
I like fixed focal point lenses. I don’t have zooms; I shoot with a 24mm, a 135mm and a 300mm.
Whose work do you admire? Why?
Chelsea Boos, an Edmontonian. She just has an idea, sets up a bunch of boxes and then does it; I really admire that. Carmen Douville, another Edmontonian, gave a talk on momentum when I was just starting to understand that you have to take risks and have follow through as an entrepreneur. These things stall out way too easily, but if you focus on the process and have enough dots and have boxes that are spaced far enough apart, you’ll maintain momentum. If the spaces are too far you’ll lose it.
BW: And how many good ideas get killed because the end goal is put on such a high pedestal that you forget the process.
J: Yeah, if you stop letting the process dictate, you’re not going to succeed!
If you were standing at a cross roads armed only with a camera, which path do you choose?
That’s the hard part; they’re all potential pivot points. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule or a guideline or a structure for choosing; trust me, I’ve looked for it. It would make the next pivot points so much easier but its really just experience.
How would you like to see your work evolve? What adventures await?
I don’t know – that’s part of the fun part. One thing that I’ve learned is that you don’t need to know everything. Before, I wouldn’t do something unless I thought it was perfect or could control all the variables. That’s very analytical, very scientific. But with science (as an example), often, big discoveries come from when you’re looking for A and you stumble upon B, C, and Z and you go ‘oh shit!’
Regardless of what that goal is, once you start, focus on the process. When that direction changes, don’t fight it. If you focus on the process, the end goal’s always better than what you initially intended anyway.
And I’m just getting started. Photography, its art. The craft never ends.
Is it by luck or hard work; how do you define your own success?
J: I hate the word luck. Luck isn’t a part of it; it all has to do with the tiny little inputs that lead to a bigger output. Everything that happens in your life comes from previous inputs. Everything. [Pauses]
I do everything at one hundred percent. I’ve found a way to shoot in ways nobody else does. Others see that passion in me, that I’m willing to do what no one else will, and that puts me in a position for opportunities.
BW: And it sometimes others look at successful people and think ‘oh, you’ve got it easy’, which can be crippling to success…
J: Yeah, if you don’t know they struggled to get there, you’ll never get anywhere yourself. And that was a huge lesson in my late twenties, realizing nothing ever comes to anybody naturally; they’ve just worked their asses off! You don’t see the efforts; you see the results on Instagram or Twitter. But they’re hustling every minute of every day.
Perfection may be the goal, but the process is actual progress. And people who use the word ‘perfection’ also use the word ‘luck’, truly believing outside forces dictate the level of their success.
Things get thrown in your way, but hundreds and thousands of tiny little inputs over our lifetime can be summed up in three little words: progress, not perfection.
Looking to pick his brain, check out his work or hire an incredible photographer for your next project or event? Jody Bailey’s website, jodybailey.ca, has links to his email, twitter, instagram, and medium accounts!