Finding Light

Words and photography, Jesse Jackson IV |

Contributing photographer, Travis Pranger | @mrpranger
All photos taken on Ilford 400 with my grandfather's Nikon FM2


For some, it’s an inalienable birthright, a forgone conclusion counted upon from the time it’s understood to the time it is delivered, and if not delivered, then fought for. Succession explores the theme quite well, alongside entitlement and the dangerous games we play to hold on to power. For others, the idea of inheritance never crosses the mind. This varied expectation reveals generational inequities that may be divided across racial lines, and is certainly divided along socioeconomic ones. If your forebears didn’t own much beyond what was required for day to day living, it is rather difficult for them to pass anything down. The impact of material inheritance on the lives of the inheritors cannot be overstated; the advantages passed down from fathers to daughters and mothers to sons are often cards with which they play winning positions. Material inheritance is not the only sort, of course, but it is perhaps the most obvious path to financial success for your descendants.

Most obvious, in this instance, does not necessarily mean most useful; the progeny of the affluent squandering their unearned affluence is a tale at least as old as the monetary system itself, and more than likely precedes even that. It is worthwhile to consider more than the purely monetary aspects of inheritance in order to best understand what type of bequest is of most long term significance to the inheritors.


It is possible to inherit material, social, or cultural capital. In fact, beyond being merely possible, it is inevitable, to a degree. From the beginning of your life, you are introduced to a social circle that has an outsized impact on your development and your expectations, your understanding of what is possible in life, what to strive for and what is important. For one reason or another, the idea of a creative inheritance was not an obvious one to me. I have many shared interests with my father, though they made themselves known well past the time we spent living under the same roof.

I inherited his love of cars, although we perhaps arrived at the same conclusion from two directions - he from a fascination with the mechanisms that propel them forward, and I from line and form. My wife and my father get along quite well, having a shared love of discovering the how of the way things work, especially mechanical, detailed things. My proclivity has always been towards the why, the abstract, the aesthetic form. A career in design has given me the tools to drive towards an understanding of the function and to let that inform the form, but if made to choose, I am personally drawn to form.


Perhaps, due to this difference and the circumstances of my fathers upbringing in relation to mine, I cannot draw a direct link from my father’s creativity to my own. My father is an incredible technical draftsman, very precise and analytical. I remember looking at his handwriting from a young age and feeling as though it were simply unattainable to me - his being something akin to Helvetica for the crispness and clarity of the letterforms, while mine would compare unfavorably to the worst doctor’s script - and with his proclivity for math and science being so different to my preoccupation with language and philosophy, it could feel as though we were from two different worlds entirely. It is not at all surprising, in retrospect, that I became a designer, in contrast with my father the engineer.

There were two saving graces of such difference in predilection - our similarity in personality, and my parents' determination to facilitate the personal growth of all of their children; to ensure we would become our own men, to encourage and protect the interests we had. A child could not ask for a better home environment. This is all the more noteworthy because of the manner in which both my parents were raised - single or divorced parents, all of the challenges of being Black and striving to achieve, either in Boston or Fort Wayne, without the support systems they provided us.

I never met my maternal grandfather, and I was two or three years old when my paternal grandfather died of heart disease at a relatively young age. I don’t have the fond memories of being taught to fish, or hunt, or working on old cars in the garage.. no swapping of multi-generational father/son stories. For years, I wondered if I had missed something. There was no pang of loss, no hole in my heart - it was just not there. And yet. There may come a time on a life’s journey when you are given something that fills a gap that you never knew was there. That gap was filled for me on the occasion of my thirtieth birthday.


My grandfather, Jesse Jackson II, is still an enigma. Due to my family history, I know very little about him. This is my responsibility - only recently have the scales of self interestedness fallen from my eyes as I start to inquire about from whence I came - but even stories in the oral tradition have escaped me thus far. I know I share his name, and now, I share his camera. Among what little I do know, I know he was a photographer. Or, falling short of being a photographer, he was a man who enjoyed taking pictures. I know this because I am told as much, although I also have the photographs themselves - some sort of lasting document - that show him in his element, handling the very Nikon FM2 that I now carry.

I feel connected to my grandfather through this camera. It is the only momento I have that provides such a feeling. I don’t know where I would be if I had had the time to learn from him - it’s entirely possible that I would have hated it! - but, if there is such a thing as energy transferrence, I have felt it here. I don’t know how high he climbed in creating work with this form, but I just have this feeling that I should find out how high it can take me.