Get to know Jake Green, a London-based visual artist renowned for his authentic and sensitive portrayal of people and places, driven by his profound “obsession, passion and dedication”. Green’s lens captures the nuances of cultures and communities in a world often overshadowed by geopolitical intensity. His work often reveals the unsaid stories nestled within the folds of everyday life - whether through extensive documentation of London’s historic pie and mash tradition or an intimate behind-the-scenes look at one of London’s oldest football clubs, Leyton Orient FC.
In his documentary coffee series, Drink My Sweat, the photographer ventures along Colombia, tracing the international trade of coffee and connecting the people that drink the brew with the people that produce it. As Green’s work resonates globally, we’ve seen him collaborate with a wealth of brands,  among them Google, Nike, New York Times, Barbican and so forth. His work was recently recognised and awarded in the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize, one of the most prestigious photography awards in the world.
Hi Jake, it’s a pleasure to speak with you. How are you feeling today? What are you up to?
I’m feeling good – in-spite of the world being very intense geopolitically, I focus on the positive. Creatively I’ve had the opportunity to work on some great projects recently and I’m planning some interesting collaborations for 2024. I’ve been working on my Home Team project for the last couple of years. When I started that project I had no idea where it would go – and I embrace the feeling of not quite knowing. I love slowly seeing it come to life and finding form.
As you look back on your body of work, is there a recurring emotion or message that consistently drives your artistry?
There is a recurrent representation of passion and ritual – I’m inspired by obsessions, passion and dedication. From religion to sport, fine art to dance. Once I fully immerse myself in a project – it carries me and takes me on a journey and I become obsessed with it.
Can you recall an artist who deeply resonated with you, leaving a lasting impact on your creative perspective?
There have been many artists who have had a profound impact on the way I think and work. Some of those artists are friends and collaborators, others are artists I have studied and been affected by. Currently I’m taking a lot of inspiration from Paul Dash, a painter that I know very well, his determination and vision is a constant influence. Paul also sees something in my work that I don’t think I fully comprehend. Also, I love the work of Claudette Johnson, I find it very emotional. On the other hand I’ve done a lot of work with musicians; in particular the work I did with Skepta taught me so much. His strength, vision and independence have helped drive my work. I also really learned a lot from collaborating with artist Hervé Tullet. Within photography I really admire and take inspiration from the approach and aesthetics of Alec Soth, Stephen Gill and Rinko Kawauchi.
With your three-edition book series Pie & Mash London, which seems to document London’s historic pie and mash tradition, can you tell us a bit more on how this came about? Does London often inspire your work?
London inspires my work – everyday and in every way. The Pie & Mash London project started as a film collaboration with my friend Simon Poon Tip. Simon had grown up eating pie and mash at a shop in Shepherds Bush called A. Cookes that was going to close, we wanted to document it before it shut down. We were working on a series of films about London at the time which included Stratford City Skaters, Renoir, Alright Superstar and Pie & Mash.
As we were filming each project I was taking stills – I had a feeling that the exterior shots of the pie and mash shops would work well as a kind of low-fi almanac. The book gives people another more tangible way to appreciate the shops.
Your recent documentary project Home Team was spotlighting Leyton Orient FC, one of London’s oldest football clubs. I’m curious, in capturing the intimate behind the scenes, how did you manage to ensure the privacy of your subjects?
With Leyton Orient and many other personal projects – I take my time. I don’t rush in at all and I respect people’s space. I’ve taken pictures of people in moments of intense passion at the football matches and have then spoken to them at a later date to ask for their consent and to make sure they are happy for me to use the images in some way. One specific image I took was of the mascot in the locker room. He had taken off the head of the mascot outfit – which meant you could see his face. He felt that it revealed too much and would undermine the mysticism of the club mascot. I agreed to delete the image. There is a struggle to tell a story that captures the clubs personality without abusing their trust – I’m also trying to tell my story and how I feel about the club. I’ve lived near the club all my life, I used to work at the club when I was a teenager. To this date I haven’t produced a project that I’m so connected to personally.
With the Home Team project zeroing in on the cultural heritage of Leyton, East London, and your creative production studio residing at that same locale since 2012, it’s become clear that Leyton has served as both the muse and the creative space for your work. Has Leyton, as both an intergenerational community and a crucible of culture, influenced your craft? What prompted you to establish the production studio, and how has it evolved since its inception in 2012?
Leyton has allowed me to be free creatively, in this small shared studio that I co-founded. I have used the studio as a base to work and travel. A safe space to return to after weeks of exploration and adventure. Leyton has only recently developed as a muse for me whilst shooting the Home Team project, I realised early on that a portrayal of Leyton Orient would also have to include the landscape of Leyton in general. The production studio that I set-up is called Leyton of London (LOL), it has given me freedom to explore film, exhibitions, books – without the production studio I wouldn’t have had the structure and support to experiment with my creative practice. I’m talking about having the creative space to work on short films, lighting and film production, printing dummy books and designing and installing exhibitions. These are non-commercial inspirational activities which are supported entirely by the commercial work that we produce.
The studio started as an adhoc monthly film club, which moved on to producing music videos and short films. We published our first book in 2016 through a successful kickstarter campaign and the publishing side of LOL has grown from there. LOL now has capacity to run commercial campaigns – alongside book publishing, retail, independent exhibitions and community projects.
You’ve covered the intricacies of coffee, tracing its international trade, production and movement from a global scale to a local focus in your documentary coffee series, Drink My Sweat, and its distinctive subseries, Beber Mi Sudor. Described as projects that connect the people that drink coffee with the people that produce it, what impact do you hope they will have on the viewers?
There are two ways that I hope Drink My Sweat will impact viewers. On one hand I hope that the readers, the people that drink coffee, will see the immense work that goes into producing coffee and have a deeper more meaningful educated connection to consuming it. On the other hand, I hope that it can give a visual tool to people who already understand the journey of coffee and are keen to share their knowledge.
How did you engage with the local culture and communities of Colombia while working on Beber Mi Sudor? Was there a particular moment that took you by surprise, redefining your initial expectations for the project?
The trip was very hectic – farms and mills are spread out throughout mountains and at different ends of the country. I was travelling with a renowned European coffee importer called Nordic Approach and only had the opportunity to represent my personal journey through this spectacular country following the global coffee trade. The redefining moment for the project came when I got back to London. I was sitting in a café across the road from a commercial studio I was working at, exhausted physically and emotionally. Coincidentally, they were serving coffee from one of farms that I had stayed on in Colombia. As I drank the coffee I recollected my journey, the people, places and the work that had gone into producing that single cup of coffee. The young pickers that I had stayed with and the stories of farmers being killed for their land by drug gangs. I looked around the coffee shop at all the people drinking coffee without a care in the world. I felt I couldn’t possibly enjoy another coffee in the same way ever again – it really affected me. I thought that perhaps the least I could do is share my images and try to express the way I was feeling to other people.
You’ve collaborated with a wealth of global brands, among them Google, Nike, New York times, Barbican and so forth. How is it to receive recognition for renowned brands that have likely been familiar to you throughout your entire life?
I’m grateful for the commercial opportunities – as they facilitate the creative projects. Once you’ve worked for one globally recognised brand it tends to open the door for other commercial projects. I try to align myself with their projects and influence their projects with my creative aspirations.
Could you share any projects or pieces you’re currently working on that we should look out for?
What you have seen of the Leyton Orient project is just a WIP at this stage, really just a snippet – there is so much more I am planning to share with that piece. My current focus is on where I go with that project – perhaps a small book or exhibition. I’d like to know how the people in the project want to see it develop and work with them more closely on sharing the project in some way.
As we finish our conversation, I want to congratulate you on your recent winning of the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize! This must be incredibly affirming. Are there any particular projects or areas within your craft that you now feel more compelled to explore in light of this achievement?
Thank you – the positivity I have felt from people regarding the Taylor Wessing award has been great. Yes it is very affirming, I’ve been entering that competition for over 20 years. To be acknowledged by such a prestigious award and institution is incredible, but I’m going to focus on my independence and determination. Throughout my creative journey I have had support from people on the outskirts of the industry and I’ve developed outside of the mainstream and followed my own path. This recent achievement has inspired me to support other creatives who are on their own path and outside of the mainstream even more than ever.