Q: Which came first, your interest in photography or travel?.
Jon: They're intertwined, they both developed together. At 14, I went to France for the summer. I wandered all over Paris and Versailles on a little moped, carrying a Pentax camera. In my twenties, I traveled around the world, including trips to Asia where I started shooting in a pretty similar style to what I do now.
Q: Do you do other types of photography, or do you focus exclusively on portraits?
Jon: I’m primarily attracted to making portraits of people, especially the children and very old people. The kids are so cute, and they're also symbols of hope for the future. The old people have something very special about them — their wisdom and their peacefulness. Somehow the pictures convey the satisfaction they've found in their lives, even with all the hardships they experience.
Q: Your work always seems to capture the wholeness and beauty of the people you meet. The photos express joy, rather than hardship. That's your intent, isn't it?
Jon: Right. The message in my photography is about cultures, about humanity, about the richness of people's lives — regardless of how much money they have, or what religion they are, or what color skin they have. When someone sees one of my photographs, the first thing I want them to notice is "What a great human being!" or "What a beautiful child!" rather than "Wow, that person is so poor!" You have to reach people with that sense of humanity first.
Q: Looking at the photos, we always wonder how you get people to open up in front of the lens the way you seem to do?
Jon: I just interact with them. I tell jokes, clown around, make noises. You can’t tell someone to smile. If you tell them to smile, then it’s a fake smile. But you can do something that makes them smile. If you do something silly and then they smile, it’s a real smile. It just takes a willingness to spend time with them.
Q: Did you start out thinking of your photography work as a form or service, or did that develop along the way?
Jon: I think it was a natural growth resulting from spending time with the people in these communities and then wanting to give something back. Working with Seva, I've found a way to do that. I’m honored and proud to be associated with Seva and to be a visual spokesperson, in a way, for Seva's work. I can’t imagine any other organization that I can feel that good about. It’s been delightful for me.