Jacob Ace is on a mission to celebrate Californian youth culture

We asked four rising photographers to lens Burberry’s iconic trench coat. 18-year-old Jacob Ace took it to a local skatepark with his closest friends.

by Osman Ahmed
18 May 2021, 7:37pm

You may remember Jacob Ace as the rising star who took home the top prize of ’i-D Summer School’ last year. The 18-year-old photographer impressed us with his extensive research and exploration of his indigenous Hispanic heritage. Since then, Jacob has been honing his skills to expand his remit and, though he’s taken time off from his studies, he has continued to photograph his close circle of friends in Santa Ana, California. “With quarantine and lockdown, I had a lot of time to like, think about what I want to do and like about myself,” he explains. “I've gone on to experiment, randomly, with pictures that I've taken in the past or pictures I've just taken, and I’ve had a lot of time to really just think about my work.

Though Jacob’s work is in its nascent stage, it is mature beyond its years. It is often focused on the people around him: members of his local community and the friends he has known for years. Most of them are, like him, young people still finding their voices, trying to make a difference in the world through their art. He once again enlisted his 19-year-old friend Emilia for this project, choosing to shoot her and a handful of his pals just two streets down from his house in the local skatepark. “I always try to have models that I have a relationship with or who I'm inspired by in some way, so that it's not just like I'm taking a photo of a complete stranger,” says Jacob, who also drew on the distinct Hispanic sense of style in Santa Ana when we asked him to photograph Burberry’s iconic trench coat. “I've always been surrounded by my heritage and language and everything like that, so I guess translating that into fashion — it’s always about style.”


Jacob is continuing to explore collage-like layouts with his pictures, shooting on a mixture of film and cameras to evoke a sense of movement and intimacy — something that he feels is missing in the endless scrolls of images on social media. “I feel like I've only really started taking good photos this past year, because I mean, I'm 18 so I feel like I'm constantly trying to figure out what my style is, but also not trying to stress about that too much,” he adds. “I’m just trying to do what feels natural.”

 Here, we caught up with Jacob to find more about how he’s bringing his unique perspective to image-making. 


Hi Jacob! Can you tell us a bit more about where you live, what your surroundings mean to you?
I live in Santa Ana, California, which is like just one big bubble of Hispanic culture. I've always been surrounded by my heritage and language and everything like that, so I guess translating that into fashion — it’s always about style. Like, men in their skinny jeans and Gucci belts — I think that's really informed the way I see fashion and fashion imagery. With this project, specifically, I just wanted to take pictures of my friends, real people, and show them in expensive clothes.


How and when did you first become interested in photography?
Well, my mom's a photographer, but she would just do it for fun. I grew up always seeing her photos, but I wasn't properly introduced to like photography until the fourth grade. This art teacher came to my school and she introduced me to so many different artists. I remember, in the fourth grade, I was looking at Robert Mapplethorpe photos and my mom was like, ‘What are you looking at?’ [Laughs] Yeah, that's how I was sort of introduced to photography and then ever since then, I've just been like, playing around with the medium.


What do you think the role of a photographer is, or the power of a photograph in this world saturated with imagery? 
For me, it’s about trying to navigate this digital age through like intimacy, which is one of the reasons why I shoot on film. It’s also why I try to always cast friends, because I have a good connection with them. I think doing those things really helps break apart those separations between, say, TikTok photographers, and like, ‘real photography’ — although I’m not saying that that's not important, but I think that intimacy needs to exist in photos and that's my point of view.


You also use draw on collage as a tool, too, which was something that you did with your project last year. What do you like about it? 
Yes, I was never really a big fan of making collages, really, but I think after that project, I really honed in on that. I guess it goes back to the whole intimacy thing. I shot like one of my best friends and her boyfriend and I took pictures of them in trench coats, and they were like making out and like, doing all these weird things. So, I made a bunch of stills from a video I took of them and I like that it has this progression of how they interact with each other, from beginning to end.


I also like the anticipation of shooting on film — I like that I don't really know what it's going to look like. That's always more exciting, I guess, to see that print in your head. I guess all the photographers I really like, like Larry Clark and Nan Goldin and all those people, they always shot on film. I think that's what drew me to it. There's so much emotion in their photos. And I guess that's what I strive for in mine.


Can you tell me about Emilia and Mario, your friends who are in the pictures? How did you meet them and why did you want them to be in these pictures?
I met them at school actually, and one of the other models, Vince, I met him at a party. I always try to have models that I have a relationship with or who I'm inspired by in some way, so that it's not just like I'm taking a photo of a complete stranger. Like, I feel like I have to know the person a little bit to be able to take that photo. The thought of making my models uncomfortable makes me cringe. I don't know why, but I feel like I have to have a relationship with them. Even if it's just a short conversation before getting to know them, because I feel like me not knowing them will translate to the photo, if that makes sense.