Chase Jarvis made a career with images of fast people in far-flung places. Then he pointed his camera at his hometown.
CHASE JARVIS’S GREATEST IDEA came to him in the last place you expect to find Chase Jarvis: in a hammock, his globetrotting momentum slowed to a rare zero miles per hour. Renowned for commercial images of desert runners, rock climbers, and drivers of careening SUVs, Jarvis, like his subjects, is in constant motion. He flies 150,000 miles a year, zigzagging from Dubai to China, New Zealand, and back to Seattle. But in the fall of 2007, while lazing in his Greenlake backyard, the photographer penned a list of Seattleites with whom he’d like to collaborate. But how to choose among the city’s most influential musicians, writers, designers, DJs, athletes, and restaurateurs?
Then, a turn of the notepad. Or a squint of the eye. The idea came into focus. “I realized that the list was the project,” he recalls. He wouldn’t have to choose—he could collaborate with all of them. Jarvis spent the next two years connecting with over 100 people, coaxing them to his north Lake Union studio.
Asked to bring objects that define who they are, the subjects arrived at the studio with dogs, scooters, and ice axes. And as soon as they stepped onto the white seamless backdrop, Jarvis popped off shots. “I didn’t give them an explanation,” he says. “Not with the goal of making them uncomfortable, but with the goal of getting a photograph that represents their personality or opens them up in a different way.”
The results surprised even him. In session after session, Jarvis witnessed a city baring its soul. A fellow photog broke down in tears. A restaurateur asked to be photographed topless.
You will see the black and white photos a lot in the coming months. A book, Seattle 100: Portrait of a City, is out now (royalties will go to 4culture.org, which supports public art and historic preservation in King County). An installation of the prints is on display at the photographer’s South Lake Union gallery.
People will argue with Jarvis’s choices. Why this band and not another, more immediately relevant one? Why a biomechanical engineer, but not a surgeon or software developer? Jarvis admits that his project is really a Seattle 100, not the Seattle 100. But the collection makes the undeniable case, through its critical mass of names and faces, that some of the best ideas in the world are being hatched in Seattle—in labs, kitchens, behind cameras and turntables, and, yes, in backyard hammocks.
Here, along with photos from Seattle 100, Jarvis lets Seattle Met in on discoveries he made while photographing the city’s most fascinating figures.