New York photographer Jordan Matter has been telling people’s stories through stunning shots for years now. His photography career may have started more or less by chance, but since then his success hasn’t stopped growing.
In addition to his day job as a portrait photographer, Matter pours his endless creativity into photography projects that push boundaries and explore the raw beauty of the human body. His New York Times best-selling photo books Dancers Among Us and, more recently, Born to Dance won him widespread acclaim. His projects have also been featured on major media outlets such as the Today Show and the BBC.
Through the years, Matter’s talent and unique ideas have earned him an impressive following on social media. With over 1,6 million subscribers, his YouTube channel thrives. His secret? Exciting behind the scenes videos of his photoshoots, lots of photography challenges that take him all over the world and workshop videos with tips and tricks on the job.
We had the chance to chat with Matter on his journey to success and the secrets behind his extraordinary photography. Keep scrolling to read our exclusive interview with Jordan Matter!
Photologo: How did you get into photography? That was not always your plan, was it?
Jordan Matter: My first thing was baseball, in college, and I got into acting after that. And then one day I was on the top of a mountain trying to figure out how to take a photo of the horizon and I didn’t know how to do it. So I decided to take a photography course to learn how to take that landscape photo. When I thought about photography I was very apprehensive because I knew how many photographers there are out there. What was the chance of success with something that so many people are already doing? Sometimes in my life, I’ve listened to that voice and then in this case I didn’t, fortunately. Once I took that class I was really hooked.
P: You’ve got a really impressive following on social media. How did you build that?
J: Really slowly, to be honest! This year, 2018, I probably went from 100.000 Instagram followers to almost a million. That’s a lot, but it took me the 5 years before that to climb up to 100.000. And I’m not doing anything different! There’s no secret sauce, it’s just that people discovered what I was doing but it took them a while to discover it. I think a lot of it had to do with the YouTube content. One of the things that are really cool about social media is the idea that your process is as interesting as the photos you take. Finding YouTube and finding a way to share that process with people really helped their appreciation of my photos.
P: For someone who’s just starting out, would you say that social media is an important tool to invest time and resources in?
J: Essential. But it’s not just that if you post your photos, someone is going to start following you. I think what’s important is that you challenge yourself and that you find a unique voice. A lot of the time people try to recreate or copy what is already popular but somebody else already did it—so why do it? When I started doing dance photography, nobody was doing dance photography. I started putting dancers in everyday situations and telling stories about them. Then, [there was] my video series taking people behind the scenes of photography. Taking a photo can be boring and finding a way to make it engaging and exciting really served me because that hadn’t been done before. So that’s definitely the key element—finding something unique that no one has ever done.
P: Would you say that telling a story is more important than having great technical skills?
J: Yes, definitely. I actually don’t know a lot of the technical aspects either. I just know what I have to know for the photos I want to take. Everyone I work with as a photographer always knows more about techniques than I do! I don’t believe having an intimate knowledge of all things technical is essential for success. I think it’s more about having a reason why you’re taking the photos. What is it that it’s motivating you to take these photos? If you know what that is, and you stay true to that, you’re going to do well.
P: Where do you find inspiration for your photos and content?
J: I guess I try to turn a negative into a positive. I’m not really good at planning things out so I can’t look ahead and say “ok, tomorrow I’m shooting so and so, I know what I want to do”. Instead, I go the opposite way and I’m very very spontaneous. I have no idea what I’m going to do until suddenly I see something. It’s all happening in the moment. The inspiration always comes from whatever is right in front of me. From that, I try to construct an image that is true to my mind. The inspiration is never-ending because environments are never-ending. And that’s how I know that I’m never going to repeat myself because I just go to different places.
P: Do you have any advice you’d like to give to someone who’s thinking of turning their passion for photography into more than a hobby?
J: The first thing I would say is to not get ahead of yourself and anticipate great success right from the start. You’d end up setting the bar really high and might inevitably end up being disappointed. Your goal is to improve everyday—if you get a little better everyday, eventually you’ll become a genius. It’s all about seeing daily improvements in your work, not necessarily in the number of people who follow it. A great example of that is Humans of New York. For the first year he [Brandon Stanton, author of photobook Humans of New York] was walking around and shooting photos every day, and nobody cared. Now everybody knows his work because he didn’t give up. When I was doing my dance work, before anyone cared, I still had to go out and shoot it. I’d ask myself why I was even doing it. But for some reason, I stuck with it. If I had quit, I obviously wouldn’t even be talking here right now. It really is about continuing to work on something and being dedicated to it.
Find more of Jordan’s work at: