JayCougar: Strictly Digital

JayCougar [ now going by his real name: James McKenzie – DW, April 2012 ] was one of the earlier entries in my watchlist – number 18, to be precise – not that it’s particularly significant. He also happens to be 18 years old as I write this. We humans do like to find meaning in numbers, structure and pattern where there is none; it’s a comfort thing. With Jay’s work, the comfort is not in the numbers though, or in any obvious pattern, but in a somewhat varied – but nonetheless fairly coherent – collection of images. He clearly enjoys being behind the lens, and applies an observant eye to all manner of subjects. His images are often recognisable by the tones – muted colours, with a pinkish background, is one theme. He is able to photograph the commonplace in an appealing way, but while his subjects might be mundane, he somehow manages to avoid banality in the results.

Jay uses colour, texture and good old composition with a skill that wouldn’t be surprising in someone with longer experience. Compositionally, he has a deftness that comes across instantly, yet he doesn’t apply the “Rule of Thirds” slavishly. Nor has he any fear of placing his subject centrally. I strongly suspect that all of this comes very naturally, that Jay has an innate sense of what’s right and wrong, without needing to think too much about what he’s doing. Some of us, on the other hand, have to work at it, studying, contemplating, getting it wrong and right with a bit of effort.


Sweet Blue “Taken over a year ago, originally bright red fake raspberries on a red cloth… the wonders of Photoshop”

That’s my impression … what does Jay make of it all?

Jay, I’ll start with a big one. You have a way of seeing things – the ordinary (and some less than ordinary) details of daily life, that, for me, places your work firmly in the realm of Fine Art. What drives and inspires you?

JC It’s hard to say exactly what inspires me; the work of other artists plays a role I’m sure, also just the world around. Things catch my eye so I take some photos … worst case they’re all terrible but they hold a memory. My favourite part of nature is definitely the sky, though I find it’s not the best photographic subject – it’s hard to get right. As clichéd as it sounds, creation in general inspires me, whether the subject is created by God (nature, plants, people etc…) or by mankind (clothes, buildings, objects etc…). Also music is a big inspiration, especially when it comes to titles. In the past I listened to music from the second I woke up, right through to going to sleep with music playing… though I decided this probably wasn’t too good for me, so I listen to it a little less now.

I don’t think there’s too much to worry about there!

As well as just ‘seeing your subjects’, you have a keenly developed sense of composition (or, as someone else commented: “You have a great ‘eye’ and sensitivity to all your work”; how long have you been taking photographs?

JC I have been taking photos since I was around 15, maybe a little before that but I got into it more so around then.

I recognize a Jay Cougar image when I see one now. You have a certain style, that seems to owe something to cross-processing of film, in the appearance of colours. Care to share any secrets here?

JC My biggest tip is to firstly make sure the contrast is good, make sure there are some blacks and whites in the image, not just pale and dark grey. Secondly something I do to almost all my images is to edit the dark, light and mid tones on Photoshop using the “Colour Balance” option under Image>Adjustments. This gives a similar effect to using toners on a dark room photograph.


Reboque “This was a bit of an experiment I did with my brother. Personally I quite like it though I couldn’t say its one of my most popular images.”

The landscape, plants, people and domestic scenes all appear in your portfolio; do you have a favourite subject matter? You say that “People photography isn’t my forte,” but those pictures of people that you have shown on RB would seem to belie that…

JC I would have said in the past that still life is my favourite subject matter, objects around the house or outside, mostly close up. However at the moment I am somewhat unsure as to where my interest lies the most; I’m beginning to have more interest in people photography though I still love close ups. One thing I desperately want once I have my own camera is macro filters or a macro lens so I can take my own super close up macro photography, I love the effect it creates.


Lost Within "Taken same day as “Distant Roads” also. I love the effect of mist and am hoping to get some this Sunday morning (May 18th) for a photo-shoot of a friend dressed like a bird. I plan to take them in a friend’s apple orchard."

It appears you have been a subconscious influence on me: I called a recent image of mine 3:58 because I couldn’t think of a more suitable title (3:58 was when I took the pic); now, looking through your portfolio again, I find 4:12. Who are your photographic influences or heroes?

JC My photographic influences or heroes? Wow, that’s a really hard question… to be honest it wouldn’t be fair to say any particular photography or artist has influenced me the most; about as long as I have been taking photos I have been browsing sites like RedBubble and DeviantART, looking through thousands of photos. Though I suppose I can at least state some of my favorite photographers, at least at the moment (favorites tend to change often with me). The first that comes to mind would have to be Martin Stranka, whose dark, shadowy images I find very original and unique. Then a few more such as Sophie Thouvenin and Tjasa, whose soft, light macros almost seem like another world. Then there is Bernie who has an incredible way of capturing places within this world… and there are many others. And just for a little extra info, the title 4:12 was inspired by the Switchfoot song 4:12, the sound of which doesn’t suit the image at all, but the title seems to fit…

And following on from that, is there a photograph you wish you’d taken?

JC As for photographs I wish I had taken, there are thousands… I’m very jealous of other photographers work quite often haha… If you would like to see a collection of my favourite images by a variety of artists then you can, here#.

Most of your images are square; do you have a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex hiding in your jacket? If not, what do you use to shoot your images, and is film involved, digital, or both?

JC I’m not entirely sure why I enjoy square cropped images so much. I began with normal rectangles, however somehow I began cropping almost every single one into a square. It may be that I enjoy the uniformity of having all square images, or maybe I have been subconsciously inspired to do so by some of my favorite artists who also seem to square crop. Either way I find almost every photo can be cropped to a square without taking away anything much from the image, I find it often actually enhances the subject. To be honest I don’t actually know what a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex is? The technical side of photography is something I really need to work on, at the moment I just take heaps of photos of something and choose the best one.

As for film or digital… I did some darkroom film stuff a few years ago and hated it. The grain was a nice effect but otherwise almost everything could be done equally well or better with a digital camera and Photoshop. Some might disagree and say digital will never surpass the traditional dark room photograph, but personally I feel it already has. This is not to say that darkroom isn’t interesting and fun to play with occasionally but I don’t feel it is a necessity to a photographer. So yea, I do digital.

Take a tip, Jay: you’re doing fine just now, as far as I can tell. Your work transcends the technical side of things, and speaks for itself. As for not knowing what a Hasselblad or Rolleiflex is, that’s really quite refreshing.


Distant Roads “Probably my most popular and well known image (along with ‘Kindergarten Sky’). Tones edited and vignette added in Photoshop.”

If someone took away your camera tomorrow, and said “no more,” what would you do? How else would your creative urge express itself?

JC I suppose I would work more on other media. I draw a little as it is; I’m not that great at it, and I have tried painting, again not that great, but really any art form has its perks so I’d just get to work on another… I think half the reason I take so many photos compared to exploring other media is because it’s immediate and I can be impatient sometimes haha.

You’re not the only one! I like film and darkroom work, but the instant feedback from the rear screen is very addictive, and having to wait a day or so for a film to be processed and scanned seems slightly tedious. Pathetic, isn’t it?

What brought you to the Bubble?

JC To be honest I can’t remember what brought me to RedBubble, maybe advertising? I have been using DeviantART since 2005 and have two accounts on there and it’s somewhat similar. I got onto that through a couple of friends at school who use it.

You’re at school now; what’s next for you? There have been suggestions that you should, or might, study photography; is that on the cards? If so, what direction do you think you might go in?

JC Studying photography would be great, or maybe graphic design; however I’m not quite sure where to go to study photography by itself, not as part of a larger art course. Also I hear it’s expensive to learn because of the darkroom component, but I suppose all further studies have their costs.

I think on reflection, I’m inclined to say forget the photography course, unless it’s strongly arts-based. I believe you have skills too valuable to be wasted on a pedagogical approach to this fine art (although here I might just be remembering my own days on such a course; things might have changed for the better now!).

Have you any plans for an exhibition?

JC At the moment I don’t have any plans for an exhibition, but once I’m done with school and such responsibilities I may consider doing one. I have recently had an image in the Brunswick Street Gallery, courtesy of The Melbourne Group here on RedBubble, which was up for about two weeks but I’m not really sure that counts as an exhibition. Also I’d like to improve the image quality of my photos before I display them too much more.


Thrice “This is a very old image from when I was first getting into photography. It’s cherries frozen in a glass of water, it was fun to do though most of the photos turned out pretty bad in the end.” Well, this one’s good enough and I like it – partly because of the play on words … another JayCougar thing :)

JayCougar, thanks for sharing these thoughts – and your work – with us. I’m sure you will go far, but – we hope – not too far from RedBubble! When you do make it big, let me know, and I’ll interview you again.

View Jay’s profile

Journal Comments

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