Prom night on Whidbey Island, Washington. I was looking for quintessential Americana. Instead of the hot dogs and apple pie of high school tradition I found a young woman getting ready for the dance. Her form, draped in a diaphanous dress, pitted against the stiff and angular emblem on the door, struck me as an irresistible contrast. It was also a gentle reminder of a maxim that guides me when making pictures: Don't go out looking for something, you won't find it and you'll miss what's really there.

I use my camera as an anthropologist would use a notebook: I make visual notes about people, their environment, social context, the extraordinary and ordinary found in a routine day. While making these notes I search for spontaneous interaction, juicy light and color, contrasts and subtle humor. I try to capture what is really there.

I seek out culture, subculture and the unexpected going on in my own "backyard." This predisposition propelled me as far as Indonesia, where I spent three months photographing a handful of the nation's 13,666 islands. And the same predisposition also led me to the shores of the Oxbow River, outside Portland, Oregon for a "Salmon Watch" to teach students the importance of these spawning fish in the local economy.

When doing photography for newspapers, my goal was a specific brand of "content" — a quick read with impact. Now that I have refocused my work on magazines and personal projects, the scope of my "content" has broadened. In documenting "off-track" details of the Monticello Raceway in upstate New York, the most unlikely elements colluded to communicate the essence of a racehorse: midnight blue, muscle and motion.

Driving a Toyota Tercel was not the ticket into the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) parties of Southeast Ohio. But my camera was. I was graciously welcomed into gatherings where I would not normally be allowed, invited or eligible. I started this project tentatively, unsure of how I would navigate this crowd. I photographed leather, tattoos, bikes and beer for a long time before I was finally able to focus on the people, the "bikers." Getting beyond my own presumptions was my goal. In the end, it's also what makes this kind of project so satisfying.

Photographing people is both the easiest and hardest thing to do. I enjoy it and it challenges me in unexpected ways. Many photojournalists are accused of practicing a "hit and run" style with their subjects. My awareness of this issue and its impact has forced me to define boundaries for myself. A photographer must tread responsibly when mapping the terrain of another's life.

My current project focuses on Vancouver, B.C. and its recent flood of immigrants from Hong Kong. "Handover '97" has turned Vancouver into the Northwest hub of Southeast Asia. With my camera I am exploring the crossroads of a modern migration: cultural tradition and assimilation. This project will be featured in the "Culture" section of the World and I, a magazine I contribute to regularly.

I studied Photo Communication at the Ohio University School of Visual Communication and interned at the Charleston Gazette and Oregonian. I am now a dedicated full-time freelancer based in Seattle.
                           — Jacqueline Koch


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