Austin Local: Meet Photographer Jackie Lee Young

We pick Jackie Lee Young‘s brain about Austin, her favorite captures and what we can expect to find in her camera bag.

It was ACL weekend one — Saturday — as I made my way toward the back of the Vince Staples crowd. The fans were rowdy and, although I stand at 5’7, it wasn’t enough for me to get an unobstructed view of the stage. I made my way out of the pack and soon found a clearing to utilize the capabilities of my Canon telephoto (that thing’s a secret weapon — sometimes being in the pit isn’t even necessary!).

I looked to my right and saw a girl in patched-up jeans and a vintage tee emerging from the crowd.. I snapped a photo of her, thinking I could incorporate it into my street style post. Her jeans were killer. I didn’t think I’d get the chance to meet Jackie, until I did when we were both waiting to catch A$AP Rocky’s set hours later. A few thumb swipes through her Instagram feed and you’ll understand the bond she has with her camera(s). When she’s not shooting for Vice, New York Times T Magazine, Live Nation, for personal fun, etc., you can find her managing the lounge and social accounts for one of Austin’s favorite hangouts, Hotel San Jose. I’d say Jackie has found a pretty swell niche for herself.


Born and bred in Austin?

I was born in Oklahoma. Grew up in Saudi Arabia and Norway, returning to Austin when I was 18. I’ve been here intermittently since!


What is it about this city that keeps you around?

I’ve lived here for 15 years and so many things have changed yet developed here during that time, especially the art and music scene. There is always something going on and the vibe is collaborative, not competitive, which inspires me daily.



Top three favorite spots in the city?

The Contemporary at Laguna Gloria: outdoor artspace with rotating contemporary exhibits year-round…also a venue. It is a visual paradise. 

Hotel San Jose: Zen gardens, lush grounds, minimal design, best staff in the world (I’ve also worked at this hotel for 7 years, and I love it), fantastic Rosé selection on the menu. Quite simply the best. 

Catch Tilly + Olive Boutique (a tie for shopping): Catch Tilly is a fancy headshop for the modern woman (they have golden rolling papers!). Olive is a collection of outrageously patterned modern designs, as well as perfectly paired vintage. 


What’s a typical weekend look like for you? 

Lately it’s been shooting or working at the Hotel San Jose! But if that’s not the case, at least one day is dedicated to mapping out new locations around Austin, trying to find new places to shoot. Murals, gardens, alleys, new neighborhoods, etc. Being able to live in a place with such an enriched music scene also lends itself to one, if not two, nights out seeing a great show. 


When was the first time you picked up a camera, and what’s been the glue that’s kept you holding on?

I couldn’t get into an afters-chool photography program during my freshman year, so I settled for Polaroids and disposable cameras. I was hooked on portraits of my family and friends, as well as travel and music shots, right away. Portraits have always been my glue: finding a way to extract someone’s personality is such a challenge and always will be. 


How would you describe your photography style?

Perhaps 50% snapshot + 50% editorial? Imperfect, tropical, compositionally bizarre and always pushing boundaries. 


What’s your favorite type of subject to shoot?

Someone who will let me me push them to challenge themselves. I’ve been asked, “Wait, you want me to do what?!” and I’ll show them, always saying “do what I do but make it your own.” It’s the best! 


Being in the photo pit with other photographers is somewhat of a rush. Would you say it’s competitive? Any tips for first-timers in the pit?

I say have fun with it, but work work work work work! Essentially you are all capturing the same thing, but you have to make it your own. Use different angles, move around, go against the grain of the other shooters. Fangirl or fanboy out to yourself, too: this helps you remind yourself how rad it is to be where you are…you’ll work harder to get the shot. 



This might be a hard one but, do you have a favorite photo you’ve taken?

I was commissioned by the New York Times T Magazine to show New York SXSW. It was such a challenge — it came with zero rules, so it was up to me to seek out portraits and shows, and really set the vibe. I went to a Dan Deacon show and, at one point, he got into the middle of the crowd and asked each person to place their hands on the head of the person to their right. He then asked that everyone close their eyes and try to imagine the childhood memories of the stranger they are touching. A few strangers on the balcony helped me keep my balance as I leaned over to get the shot. It’s beautiful and scary and such a fantastic moment. I am proud of it. (see below)


What can we expect to find in your camera bag?

Two camera bodies: a 6D and a 60D. Two batteries, a wallet of memory cards, battery charger, a handheld light meter, a reflector, a Sigma 50mm prime lens, a Canon 24-105mm and a Canon 70-300. I  always wear a fanny pack with extra batteries, lip balm, my glasses and extra cards just so I have backup items on my person. :)


Have any fun projects in the works?

I am looking forward to working with Vice and Live Nation TV (again) for coverage of the Fun Fun Fun Festival in Austin. 


What’s one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring photographers? 

Do not take yourself too seriously, but always push yourself (you’ll surprise yourself) to the edge of what you think is safe and experiment!



What does being “free” mean to you?

To me, being “free” is being trusted to make good work and being surrounded by those who want to push themselves as far as I do to be creative. 



Check out more of Jackie’s work here, and follow her on Instagram!

Check out more content from ACL on BLDG 25!

Follow Jana on Twitter and Instagram.


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