Jason’s magic camera


Infrared - Credit: Archant

Jason Avery’s photographs show the Suffolk landscape in a whole new infrared light. They also saved his life, discovers Lucy Etherington


Infrared - Credit: Archant

The Suffolk landscape in infrared is like Narnia. A walkway through the reeds at Blythburgh is transformed to an eerie fairytale, white reeds beneath a menacingly dark sky. A view of the lake at Framlingham looks like every intricate blade and leaf has been carved out of ice.

Each of Jason Avery’s limited edition prints are astonishingly different from your usual – albeit perfectly beautiful – Suffolk landscape photography. And yet, despite their oddness, they are also very real. He hasn’t Photoshopped them or added a colour filter. This is what the world looks like in infrared.

“A camera converted to infrared sees beyond the human spectrum,” Jason explains. “We’re seeing animal sight, the colour spectrum of a bat, snake or mosquito.” Not every picture will work in infrared. But Jason has developed a way of seeing so that he knows when it will. Most of his work involves walking for miles looking for the perfect image, and then waiting for all the elements – sky, weather, light – to come together.

“And if that moment doesn’t happen,” he says. “I’ll come back an hour later, or a month later. You can’t make the landscape do what you want it to do, you just have to be there when it happens.”

The day before we meet at his gallery in Halesworth, he spent 12 hours in Covehithe waiting for the tide to hit the shore in a certain way, for clouds to form and the depth of shadow on the fallen trees to be just right. Then snap, he’s caught it. He’s not the kind of photographer to take a hundred shots and hope one will work. This is about capturing something at the right time, something no one else can see.

The idea of being able to capture the moment is really important to Jason. He used to have a high powered job in Essex, managing a warehouse with 200 people, travelling miles to work and working long hours. He was married with three kids, but barely saw his family.

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Then suddenly 10 years ago, he was struck down with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome), an often debilitating and painful illness. Jason was bedridden for nearly two years.

“I used to cry in bed in pain,” he remembers. “It took me five years to just be able to walk down the stairs.” During his long, slow recovery, he and his wife Annaliese began to evaluate their lives. They moved to a 17th century almshouse in Halesworth to take things slower, to find out what they really wanted from life. They were both in a state of flux, but like the perfect moment in Jason’s photographs, everything suddenly came together.

While strolling through the town, still feeling lost and exhausted by his illness, Jason bought a camera on an impulse. He began playing around with it in his garden, an idyllic space with ancient trees and rolling lawns shared with the other almshouses.

“Something magic happened,” is the only way he can describe it. “I don’t know how, but the camera cured me. It found who I am and through it, I found my life again.” He started experimenting with infrared because he wanted to stand out from the “hundreds of other photographers in Suffolk” and became hooked. A few months later he had a sell-out exhibition at Snape Maltings.

Annaliese gave up her demanding job and began writing children’s books. The whole family have embraced the creative inspiration that helped Jason and transformed their lives. He now has a studio and gallery in the almshouses, and runs photography workshops.

The symptoms of ME are still present, but he has been able to manage them. He puts this down to the effect photography has had on him.

“It’s where I feel like a kid again,” he says. “All my worries disappear when I’ve got my camera in my hand. I’m in a zone.” w

You can see Jason’s work at Snape Maltings Quay Gallery December 14-17, or visit his gallery in The Old Almshouses, Steeples End, Halesworth, IP19 8AL

Details www.jaysargo.com