Ted Jackson was in the middle of a sea of people on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. People were partying, lewd and obscene acts happening around him. Mardi Gras.
Almost 13 years ago, Jackson had been assigned to cover Bourbon Street festivities for the Times-Picayune. Despite his objection to what occurred on Bourbon Street, he felt he would find something photographically different. In the midst of the crowd, Jackson instead says he found anoppressive evil spirit. He began to look for something different.
“I was in the middle of all this evil and I looked down the street and there was the shadow of Christ on the back of the St. Louis Cathedral. The statue was lit with lights, I couldn’t actually see the statue itself, but it was such a sight,” says Jackson.
The light in contrast to all the revelry of Bourbon Street made Jackson realize that no matter where you are, “God is always there walking beside you, if you are looking and paying attention.
“Looking back on it, I realized that it was more than I expected. Since then I’ve asked to be assigned to something else. There was such an oppressive evil there,” says Jackson.
Jackson arrived in New Orleans 15 years ago after getting his first job at the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, La. in the heart of Cajun country. He took that first job after finishing a photojournalism degree at Southern Mississippi. That degree came after he left school in his junior year and working as a commercial artist.
‘It’s always a learning experience you’ve got to remember Who you belong to and what your mission is.’
His roommate had been a journalism major and as Jackson puts it, “was having fun in journalism while I was looking at National Geographic.
“My wife Nancy, suggested that we go back to school. Two years later I was working in New Iberia.”
When the Times-Picayune offered a job in New Orleans, Jackson began what would become a long-term relationship not only with the paper, but also with the city. New Orleans isn’t where most Christians would consider wanting to raise a family, but Jackson views it with a different light.
“I’ve been offered a lot of opportunities and I’ve seen it as a calling. I never wanted to come to New Orleans. It’s not where I wanted to raise my family, yet there were so many things that have drawn me here. Things have worked out so well,” says Jackson.
“It has two sides to it. It’s a great place to photograph, there are stories everywhere, but as a Christian it’s a difficult place to live.”
Fifteen years is a long time to stay at the same newspaper. Opportunities to move have come along, yet each time, something happened to keep Jackson there. He’s also aware that moving from one paper to another can end up not being everything it was cut out to be.
“You never think you’ll be in the same place for 15 years. Every time I thought I was ready to leave, things got better. They’ve treated me very well here. I’ve always been conscious that you can jump from the frying pan into the fire,” he adds.
Newsrooms can be a hard place for Christians, especially if your views are as well known as Jackson’s. At the Times-Picayune, Jackson has a support team from different departments. Jackson says there are five or six — some reporters, artists, and editors — who have developed an accountability to one another. Yet daily, Jackson seems to find someone else in the newsroom that shares his beliefs.
“I have found that I find Christians in different places. Too often we don’t talk about it and just push it aside. Just recently, I discovered someone that I never knew was a Christian. Yet we’d known each other for some time. That disturbs me,” says Jackson.
The photo department at the Times-Picayune, on the other hand, is very aware of his faith. He finds they will come to him for advice on some things, yet avoid certain topics because they know what his beliefs are.
Jackson loves to tell a story with his camera. He says that people in New Orleans are some of the most interesting and he wants to tell their story.
“I really love shooting the social issues, whatever they might be…. I love spending time with people who have a story to tell. Poverty is an arena that has so many stories. I like to do stories about people who can share their Christianity. It doesn’t come around often, but it’s exciting to do,” Jackson says
Photojournalism is a calling for Jackson. He realizes that he has the opportunity to see and document people’s lives. No matter whether you’re on the street with the homeless or in a sea of people celebrating Mardi Gras.
“It’s always a learning experience you’ve got to remember Who you belong to and what your mission is.”