Jesse Salto’s Ode to Freedom

The light, the subjects, the atmosphere of Jesse Salto’s images, captured with a medium format camera, have that magical and captivating aura that is rarely found in photos.
We wanted to know more about how he created such inspiring images…

Hi Jesse, can you introduce yourself briefly to our readers?

I was born in the US to a Scandinavian mother and Polish father and grew up in France. I now live in Los Angeles.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

How did you discover photography?

It was my entryway into visual creativity. When I was 15 years old I picked up my mother’s old Nikon 35mm camera and started shooting the world around me.

“[…] I picked up [photography] again about 6 years ago, in desperate need of a space of complete creative freedom.”

I then stopped shooting stills for nearly 7 years to focus on becoming a director but our first loves are never far and I picked it up again about 6 years ago, in desperate need of a space of complete creative freedom.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

What drove you to portrait photography?

I love people and I love stories and I felt there were certain forms of beauty that weren’t being celebrated enough.

“[…] I wanted to inspire the desire for adventure.”

I wanted to show the people I was shooting how beautiful they were and I wanted to inspire the desire for adventure. All the amazing stuff in life happens outside of our comfort zone. I think that’s what I’m looking for, in others and in myself.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

What makes you want to photograph one person more than another? What inspires you in people?

I’m not sure actually. I have a very clear image in mind before going into a shoot, sometimes I have to find the person that fits that image and sometimes the image comes from meeting the person.

“Vulnerability is so beautiful to me […]”

I think deep down I’m drawn to emotion: Vulnerability is so beautiful to me and I’m inspired by people who will let me in enough to see theirs. Photography is a dance.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

You work a lot with film. What does this bring to your photography practice?

First of all, I think film simply has more soul. You’re literally capturing light through an organic/chemical process and the diversity of skin tones is unparalleled even to this day.

“I think art is as much about what you leave out as it is about what you keep.”

It also brings a lot of discipline. You become very intentional with every press of the shutter. I think art is as much about what you leave out as it is about what you keep. Film brings that process to the shoot itself. If something isn’t right yet I don’t press the shutter.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

If you only had to keep one camera, which one would it be?

The Pentax 67 without a doubt. It’s a beast, weighs a ton, has a light meter that breaks easily but the glass, the format, the feeling of scale are everything I love.

What do you want to communicate through your images?

Fearlessness. I want to celebrate the fearlessness of my subjects in hopes of inspiring others to live out their lives in that way.

“Fear is the wall between who you are and who you want to be.”

I think we’re all afraid of something, (especially in the realm of perception and imagery these days) and I think it’s what holds us back. Fear is the wall between who you are and who you want to be.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

What advice would you give to a photographer entering the profession?

Shoot, shoot, shoot. There’s a quote about screenwriting I love that says: “Write what you know, but you only know what you know when you write it”.

“You’ll find yourself in the doing not the thinking.”

I think this applies to any art form. Don’t worry if you haven’t found your thing yet, just do. You’ll find yourself in the doing not the thinking.

Jesse Salto's Ode to Freedom
©Jesse Salto

Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I have a big one but that I can’t really tell you about. Something that’s lived in my mind for 6 years and that I’m finally shooting. I promised myself I’d be done shooting it by the end of this year.

All I can say is that everything else I’ve shot feels like the path that led me to this.

Find Jesse’s work on his website, and follow him on Instagram