(Photograph by Jonas Jungblut)
Jonas Jungblut is a Berlin, Germany born photographer currently living in Santa Barbara, California. Recently he and his wife brought into the world their second child. Jonas and I sat down and talked about how one goes about continuing creative pursuits and being a father. We also talked about price gauging lemonade stands, building baja buggies, and what he believes hopefully creates a healthy family dynamic… parents who pursue what they believe in and by doing so instilling that in their children.
CR: How is your family?
JJ: It is definitely an adjustment. You don’t just add another person. You add a dynamic between everybody in the family. You don’t just add this relationship, the relationship between that person, that person, and that person also changes. Everyone has to get used to that. We’re kind of working through that right now.
CR: So is your older son acting differently towards you guys?
JJ: No I don’t think so. He is doing well. I’m impressed. There was a week or two when I could tell that he didn’t quite know what the deal was. But he is a three and a half year old so really well still means you might get a tantrum here and there.
CR: Do they share a room?
JJ: He has his room and the baby has a bed in there but for now the baby sleeps in our room.
CR: So eventually the two will share.
JJ: Yeah we will see how that goes.
CR: My sister and I are six years apart plus my parents had a spare room so when she came along that became her room. But my wife shared a room with her older brother. They are only two or three years apart. And she told me about when he was old enough to recognize, he would taunt her and scare her at night. So you can look forward to that maybe… your older son being an instigator.
JJ: Well we will see how that house will hold up with two bigger kids.
CR: Do you plan on being here for a while?
JJ: In Santa Barbara, sure. I love that house. It is just awesome. But if we stayed there for a longer time we could easily put an Airstream outside or something and make it an office.
CR: So we’ve talked before about this notion that you have kids and you give up your pursuits and all your attention is devoted to the kid. But you [and your wife] kind of challenge that.
JJ: I think you have to. You still pursue what you want to do. I think if anything maybe even more so, they [kids] push you towards what you really want to do because you don’t have the time to play around that much anymore.
CR: You think they push you toward what you want to do? Because, it wasn’t about what my dad wanted to do it was more about what he felt he had to do.
JJ: Well I think that’s a personal choice. Or maybe I don’t know. I never really did what other people told me I needed to do so I don’t know if it’s just me but if the parent is doing what they like it’s going to be beneficial to the whole family even if it doesn’t mean financially things are great. There are stresses and I am dealing with some sort of depressing times because you feel like crap not making enough money and you feel that financial pressure a lot more when you have to feed three other people. But I don’t really see myself doing stuff I feel like I have to do and that I don’t want to do. I just quit a job that really brought in some money to do what I want to do.
CR: Yeah on one level maybe…
JJ: But I think that’s a personal thing though. I have friends that I know when they have kids they will go into a um…
CR: A perceived stable job.
JJ: Yeah. People are just wired differently.
CR: What was it like for you coming up as a kid?
JJ: I think my parents were pretty stable. They both had somewhat secure jobs. My dad was an aspiring chemist and my mom was going to school to be a teacher and I think they both struggled in their own ways and tried to make things work but I am not quite sure if they dropped something they really wanted to do in order for us to have what we have. I actually don’t know if that was the case or not. But I never felt that there was really a strong financial pressure and I always felt that they kind of did what they wanted to do.
CR: As in a strong pressure for them to make a certain amount of money?
JJ: Well I never felt like we were struggling for money. I do have to say that I was always the kid… I don’t think I was ever really spoiled with commercial goods. When everybody had the brand new bike, I had to build my own bike. But I don’t know if that was necessarily out of financial pressure or it was an educational thing.
CR: You never asked?
JJ: That’s a good question; maybe I should throw it at them and see what they say.
CR: Well yeah, I never asked my parents that… I just recognized later and at some point I put together how much my parents’ income was and you put it together and I was the kid who got bought whatever new bike. For better or worse I was that kid. We weren’t super well off or anything but I recognize later on we were comfortable. So there are the families who have a healthy dynamic and those who have certain comforts but money is involved.
JJ: Yeah, your initial question about if I feel pressured into something that I don’t want to do…
CR: Freelancing is tough and there needs to be a certain amount of money coming in to raise a kid…
JJ: Well it’s really tough, like I said some days I am just depressed about it, but overall I have this strong belief that somehow stuff always works out. Chances that you are really going to go down hill are slim and you will figure it out some way. And I think life to some degree, it’s kind of engaging when you have to struggle a little bit. I actually kind of like struggle. If you are just cruising it gets a little boring. Me quitting job, that’s not a very smart move you know. That was my only source of steady income but I kind of wanted to have that engagement of that struggle and that it would serve me better than just cruising along not having any hardship. The little guys, they don’t really know. I’ve had Roman playing with a piece of plastic for hours. Just a piece of plastic. It doesn’t really matter to them. It’s definitely more a struggle for the parents.
CR: Yeah, the parents see obviously and the kids don’t but I think it is healthy… your attitude of not being indifferent but being less concerned, less worried.
JJ: I hate the fact that it is stressing me out and I am trying really hard to not make it a priority to have all this money. It’s really nice when you have it and it feels really good when you deposit a big check but it’s such a weird dependence. I just had a conversation with a friend of mine. She said that their kids had a lemonade stand and someone drove by and said, ‘ooh you guys are cheap, I’ve seen people here charge two dollars per glass.” Two dollars for lemonade from kids? What kind of a thing is that? You are teaching your kids to rip off your community members with lemonade. I think that’s just not the right message to send to your kids. That’s greedy. I am all about get paid for what you do, not greed.
CR: So what do you do… your kids are growing up in this environment, maybe or maybe not but what you are challenging is such an American mentality of I guess the fundamentals of capitalism, supply and demand.
(Photograph by Jonas Jungblut)
JJ: I worked with a photographer who worked in L.A. and had kids. He decided to move to Thailand for five or six years so that the kids would see that L.A. is not what everybody else is doing. I thought that was a great idea. And I do have this European connection that I could easily use. And so I’d really like to get them over there to experience that world that is still Western but at least I think it’s not so focused on financial greed. But when you live in Santa Barbara you will have to deal with the kids who get BMW’s for high school graduation.
CR: But how do you deal with that? When your son wants a BMW when he is about to graduate… I know this is projecting a lot but…
JJ: I don’t know. I like cars and I think we’ve established that [in previous conversations] and so I’ve thought when he turns fourteen I am going to get him a Baja Bug, to build so when he is sixteen and done, we can do it together, and he has this fun little vehicle, I don’t know if that’s going to happen but I just don’t think for someone that’s that young, to give them that type of a present is the right message. Giving them a car so they can get around, that’s one thing but giving them a super nice vehicle… I don’t know.
CR: There is potential that your kids are kind of the weird kids with the artsy parents who take pictures for a living…
JJ: And drive up in a forty year old Volkswagen van.
CR: Yeah, so are you okay with that?
JJ: Well what’s the other option? I’m not going to change. [laughs]
CR: Has your son encountered that? Because he is going to school, right?
JJ: Yeah, but if anything… because we are young parents. Who knows but I think if anything they think its kind of cool, parents who do this kind of nonconventional thing. Maybe that’s more interesting than if your dad’s a banker. But given that they do have their own minds. And you can already see that. It’s funny when you have this little guy who used to be… you could do something with them. And all of a sudden they say no I don’t like that. We’ll see.
CR: In creative pursuits?
JJ: He used to ride down mountains on little cars and skateboards, stuff like that. And recently he started not wanting to go because he crashes or something. Before he would tumble and crash and fall and just get right back up and go again. Now I’ve noticed he is kind of timid because he didn’t want to or he was whinny about it. So seeing that is kind of weird. It’s probably a parent child thing, some type of rebellion.
CR: So do you just let him go with it? If he doesn’t want to go…
JJ: No I usually push him. And I don’t know if that’s right because I feel like maybe he gets scared more. But I know he can do it. And when he does it he is always happy. So knowing that, I feel like it’s better to be afraid but do it, and see that he can do it.
CR: Maybe your son is growing up to a bit less adventurous than you are.
JJ: I know when I was a kid I was like him. I was super timid.
CR: Oh yeah? Did your dad push you?
JJ: I think so. I would say so.
CR: When you and I and another friend went down to L.A. recently for an exhibition. And we kind of got turned around, it wasn’t a sketchy part of town but we were headed to a part of town where maybe we shouldn’t be in the middle of the night. And you told a story about how you as a kid use to be in similar situations and that had your parents known they would have been rightly scared. On one side you have a great mentality that it will work out but on the other you don’t push the boundaries when your safety…
JJ: No I think I do push the boundaries.
CR: Maybe you do then.
JJ: I think so. But if you ask my wife, she thinks that I push the boundaries too much.
CR: So you encourage it with both your boys?
JJ: I’m a strong believer in experience. And I feel like you learn so much faster when you get put through a hard time, the struggle thing again. If you struggle, you have to figure shit out. So if you struggle, you never figure shit out. And I think that goes for everything. I took my son skateboarding. And I am on a skateboard and he is on a skateboard. He’s three years old. And we are both going down this hill. He does something and he just starts flipping, tumble tumble tumble. And he wasn’t happy. But that taught him that he can’t mess around. It taught him about speed. I could tell he had no concept of how fast he was going. He just thought it was funny. And then he fell and he learned that if I go this fast and I fall it’s going to hurt.
CR: When I was in elementary school. Our playgrounds were made of steel swing sets and monkey bars on pavement. If you fell you broke your arm and you realize you better learn to hold on harder or you don’t try to do a back flip out of a swing set. Now all the playgrounds are cushioned and if you do fall you don’t get hurt. And maybe you don’t learn anything.
JJ: We live in this weird bubble were everything is super safe. I’m not a big fan of pampering your kid to where they are always safe.
CR: Are your creative pursuits more adventurous and open after kids?
JJ: I think they are more focused. If I get interested in something I dwell in it a little more.
CR: And that is a byproduct of needing to be more efficient with your time?
JJ: Probably. You just don’t have time to fuck around.
CR: Does your son’s perspective inform your perspective? Does a kid reveal things to you that translate into your art?
JJ: For sure. I was in China and I had read him this book about how the Chinese New Year had come about. It was about these red things around the door. And I’m driving around China, out in the country and I see these doors that all have red banners on them. And I had to stop and take a picture. I actually have this portrait of this old woman in a house and it was such a thrill to me to take these pictures and that I was going to be able to take home this pictures and show him where this story took place. There are a lot of times when he does something that inspires me to do something and he is known in his school to be the kid who always does these art pieces. I think we definitely play off each other.
CR: What kind of art?
JJ: He just stacks stuff, anything.
CR: Well that’s obviously related to your [balance] work.
CR: Does he have any concept of what he is doing other than emulating his dad?
JJ: I don’t know. He’s three.
CR: Well what was his response when you showed him the pictures from China?
JJ: Well for him it’s a fantasy world. He doesn’t have a concept of China. So for him I went into the story. So that was fun to see him respond.
CR: And its cool too that it’s a photograph that takes him there because we certainly challenge the notion of reality with photography anyhow. So I think we’ve really talked about some interesting things. Do you have any closing remarks?
(Photograph by Jonas Jungblut from the series, King Monkey and the Infinite Sunshine)
JJ: If overall the question is what’s the verdict on having kids and leading a creative life… I think it’s a great addition. It makes it a fuck-load harder but that’s a good thing. Because as a creative you can easily fall into this rhythm and think I’ll do this eventually. But they really focus you. If I want to do this, which I do, then I better do it and not sit around. Overall it’s how life works. If you have kids you have to make ends meet and you’ll do that somehow. And if you are really dedicated to what you are passionate about you will still do that too. It will probably weed out a bunch of people who are semi-passionate.
CR: Maybe that’s it. Maybe kids make you realize either your passionate or your not.
JJ: And the scary thing is if you think you’re passionate about something and then kids make you realize you are not then you have to be real careful not to blame the kids that you couldn’t follow your dream. In all reality, if you want to follow your dream the kids aren’t going to be in the way.
CR: And I think that’s the fear that most people have.
JJ: The thing is if they can’t follow their dream with kids then they probably couldn’t do it without them either. If you really want to do something, the kids aren’t going to be in the way. It’s going to make it a lot harder but I think harder is maybe not worse.
CR: I don’t know if you remember… but awhile back we were joking about what your kids will want to be when they grow up. So if their dream is to be CEO of Monsanto. Are you behind them?
JJ: [Laughs] No.
CR: I mean that’s extreme but if their dreams are not artistic, creative pursuits…
JJ: I think you can implement creativity in a lot of things people don’t consider creative. And it’s easy to say this but I think I will probably be fine with whatever they do. I’m pretty opinionated though so if they did want to work for Monsanto I’d probably give them a lot of shit. And I would do that too. But they have their own lives and you can’t force them to do anything.
CR: Well I think if they grow up to be perceptive people at all…
JJ: I think that’s the key. You want to have them grow up to be people that pay attention to what’s going on and just be good people. And if they are passionate about what they do then it really doesn’t matter what it is.