Photographer Jeffery Luhn and Pixar’s Matthew Luhn explain how images are bringing us closer together
Whether it’s Skyping friends, skimming through Facebook profiles, sending texts with emoticons, or just watching television, we rely on the visual more than ever before. Photographer and corporate communications specialist Jeffery Luhn believes pictures have the unique power to cut through the clutter.
“You can’t turn away from an image,” he says.
Luhn will be giving a workshop at Cabrillo College on Sept. 13 on how to communicate through photography and visual narratives. He’ll present with his nephew, Matthew Luhn, who is currently the director of story development and a senior animator at Disney-Pixar Studios.
Luhn’s nephew has worked in animation since 1992 and been a part of box office hits such as Toy Story (and its sequels), Cars, Finding Nemo, and Monsters University.
“He’s worked on 10 of their top films; they’ve been seen by over a billion people. You don’t need the sound to understand those movies, and that is powerful,” says Luhn of his nephew’s work. “It’s of interest to anyone that wants to communicate with pictures, we do it in different ways. He’s doing it with motion pictures and animation; I’m doing it with photography. But as it turns out, the techniques are very similar.”
The two have been collaborating since Matthew was quite young, the Bay Area-based family having always encouraged artistic endeavors. Jeffery Luhn was drawn to photography in his early teens and after becoming a professional photographer at age 17, he began work for United Press International. The job took him all over the world and into more than one precarious situation.
“I went to places where there were usually bad things happening,” he says. “In the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos’s government was falling, I got a camera shot out of my hands while I was photographing a group. It just disappeared.”
Although these experiences—including a plane crash in Mexico and getting stabbed in Scandinavia—were a perilous part of the job, Luhn was inspired by the incredible power that images have to transcend language differences.
“When I was living in China, I had a studio in Hong Kong, and I learned that Chinese people have so many dialects they can’t [all] speak to each other, but they have the same written language, so they can read the same newspapers. The symbols and pictographs cross all those language barriers,” he explains. “I couldn’t find a parallel in the Western world—a Spaniard can’t speak to a Scandinavian unless they speak English.”
On a broader scale, relying more on images could foster less miscommunication where it would matter most and create a stronger collective consciousness, says Luhn.
Drawing from the logic of ancient cave-drawings, this is precisely why Luhn invited his nephew to speak with him at Cabrillo, where he’s taught photography for the last seven years.
“I think it edges us to a greater worldwide understanding and that’s important. Photography is getting less profitable but it’s becoming more important, because it’s more democratic and it’s two-way communication—it’s universal,” he says. “It extends your family, you feel more engaged with humanity because you can communicate and you don’t have to speak their language and I think that’s important. That’s exciting.”
Info: 2-5 p.m., Sept. 13, $48-$54, Cabrillo College, Room VAPA 1001. PHOTO: ‘CARS’ TALK Photographer Jeffery Luhn (left) and his nephew Matthew Luhn will speak about the power of visuals at Cabrillo College on Sept. 13.