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FOCAL POINT

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FOCAL POINT Group Interview: Storytelling and the Photograph

This Focal Point Q3.16 features photographers Jennifer Garza-Cuen, Ole Marius Joergensen, and Nashalina Schrape. It's a pleasure to share a small chat with these talented artists about the driving forces behind the alluring imagery that is their photographic work.

Ole Marius Joergensen,  Stormy Night , from the series   Behind the Curtains

Ole Marius Joergensen, Stormy Night, from the series Behind the Curtains

Do you find that in the construction of your images that you are having to balance the roles of both director and photographer?
Ole: My background is from both film and photo. The way I work is very much like an director. I feel that my camera is just a tool I use to get out my ideas..if i was good with words I would probably be an writer..the same goes for painting. I love making stories so I look at myself as more of a story creator.
Jennifer: Yes, I do and I think both are required and equally important in my work.
There is the creation of a mood in order to tell a story and then there is the moment itself, which is more about being receptive to what is happening between myself and who or what I am photographing.
 

Jennifer Garza-Cuen, from the series   Wandering in Place

Jennifer Garza-Cuen, from the series Wandering in Place

What amount of planning and preparation goes into making one of your photographs? Do you find that you work more intuitively?
Ole: My work flow is very much the same as movie making. It all starts with an idea, then location/set building, finding models ,shooting, post production. Everything has to be planned..but lately I have tried shooting without any preparation and it was quite liberating.
Nashalina: I start with a concept in my mind but rely on what an object, person, landscape, and/or light bring to the particular moment. This requires me to be very present and open to the process and final product.

Do you find your images to be autobiographical or fictional? To what degree does the use of symbolism and/or metaphor play a role in your work?
Jennifer: My work is based on my own set of experiences, and from memories that are shared culturally. Historic and cinematic memory as well as the personal play a roll in what I am looking for but I also find and create my images based on the places I am documenting. Strictly speaking, my images are fictionalized in that there is often a staging element but I see them more as reenactments.
Ole: My work is all fictional. I don't like to tell much about myself but my personality is present in the images together with things I like. I love mysteries and things that doesn’t have any answers. Love the feeling of not knowing and that is something I try to make my viewer feel
too. So my stories comes without a beginning and end. Hitchcock had a thing for what different colors meant and I adapted that into my images. I also use different props to amplify my characters
Nashalina: My images run a fine line between autobiographical and fictional in their
mood and tone. The symbolism and the metaphor lie in the lighting, the objects and composition. I crave a certain mystery and elusiveness in my images which allows the viewer to fill in some of their own story.

Nashalina Schrape,  My mother's hands from berries that are used to make jelly. My mother continues to carry on the traditions of living close to the land , from the series   Whispers in East Berlin

Nashalina Schrape, My mother's hands from berries that are used to make jelly. My mother continues to carry on the traditions of living close to the land, from the series Whispers in East Berlin

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FOCAL POINT Group Interview: Role-Play, Introspection, and Photography

The FOCAL POINT Q2.16 photographers Rocio de Alba, Carla Jay Harris, and Hannah Cooper McCauley are artists who use photography as a means to examine themselves introspectively. We decided we wanted to get more personal with these mysterious women and had a little chat about their lives beyond the camera.

 

Can you provide us with some background information on your artistic career? How did you get to where you are right now and what influenced your decision to be an artist? 

Rocio: My father was a large-scale portrait painter and a graphic designer in our country, El Salvador. He was a tremendous influence on me as far as pursuing an artistic career. But, it was my mother's work ethic and dedication that drives me to work as hard as I do. I think I've only scratched the surface of where I am going or where I want to be as an artist. I am extremely active in the art community and attend as many exhibitions as I can. I have also educated myself in photography by attending lectures, workshops, and retreats, like with the Flash Powder Projects.  

Carla: I've always had an interest in artistry. My parents are both artists, so art, museums and material culture were always a part of our home. I started working in photography about ten years ago commercially and then later as a documentary artist. My fine art practice developed slowly as both of my earlier pursuits started to become less fulfilling.  

Hannah: When I was 17 after a routine trip to the eye doctor I learned that I have a degenerative, hereditary eye condition called optic nerve head drusen. My eyes are unable to dispose of waste properly and that waste builds up in the form of calcium deposits that embed themselves in my optic nerve which cause gradual visual field loss and sometimes blindness. Because of this, my parents bought me my first camera—a small, digital point and shoot. For the first time I was beginning to see the world differently, and I discovered a new kind of voice way more powerful than any words my quiet lips could form. In undergrad, I began to pursue photography seriously and after graduating I made the choice to get my MFA in photography along with my husband. Now, I’m at the end of the experience and preparing to graduate. 

 

How does your personal identity inform the work that you make? 

Carla: My work is inspired by or derived from my personal experience.  As the child of a military officer, I spent my childhood in flux – moving every 2-3 years for the first half of my life. This pattern of transience continued into adulthood due to familial obligations, financial restrictions and indoctrinated habit. Through my work, I connect to each new physical, economic, and emotional landscape by exploring its impact on the lives of its inhabitants. My identity and personal history informs my understanding of space but I do not take either alone as a point of departure.                   

Hannah: My personal identity fully informs the work I make. Every decision I make when creating a photograph is informed by my personal experiences—my upbringing as the child of a Southern Baptist minister, my vision problems, my transition from childhood to adolescence to maturity, etc. In fact, the loudest question being asked in my photographs is my own question of who I am. I’m trying to work out my own identity, and I use the act of making photographs to search for answers.

 

How relevant is the notion of role-playing in your work?

Rocio: Role-playing is a huge part in my work and the majority of my series consists of self portraiture. I invest an extensive amount of money and time into wigs, make-up, custom jewelry, as well as staging the scene with backgrounds, wallpaper, and paint. For instance, in my series Honor Thy Mother, I attempt to define the gamut of the contemporary mother archetype by portraying extremely surreal, yet undeniably realistic female characters of today. My twenty-two-year-old daughter is a master at make-up so she has been very helpful in the production of these characters. While it takes a great amount of work to make these images, it is a process that is fun for me.

Carla: I'd say it is very relevant to my most recent works. These pieces combine collage, digital imagery, illustration and portraiture to blur the line between the actual and the artificial. Each subject is simultaneously playing her(his)self while also illustrating a historical and social political figure of subjectivity.   

Hannah: I think it’s incredibly relevant. For me, the performative act of making my photographs is therapeutic—that’s the biggest reason why I’m drawn to self-portraiture. There’s something about being able to act something out in front of the camera, even if it’s for an indirect audience, that I find so fulfilling.

 

Are you satisfied with the representation of female photographers in today’s artistic community? Are there changes you would like to see?

Rocio: I am a feminist by definition and I think that is visible in my work. The world has a plethora of inequalities in gender specificities, but in the short time humans have existed, female leaders have helped pave the road for the rest of us in positive directions. I am in no way saying that we are where we should be, but we continue to move forward. Acceptance of one another is the change I would like to see.

Hannah: No, I am not. I think there are a growing number of strong female photographers out there with powerful stories to tell, but they aren’t getting recognized. Overall, I think that women are widely underrepresented in the canon of photography. I’d like to see more opportunities for female voices to be heard throughout the medium, exclusively—in exhibition, print, and otherwise.

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FOCAL POINT Q3.14 Interview: Charlotte Strode

FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

Describe the arc of your photography career so far. (How you got to where you are now, pivotal experiences/accomplishments/ influences, etc.)

My photography career has slowly progressed through a series of small unintentional life experiences and intentional small steps. I have been exposed to photography for as long as I can remember, but didn't pursue photography until my mid-20's. My father was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and worked in the field throughout his life; my mother also worked as a photographer, living in New York as a young woman to assist Ernst Haas and later working as a newspaper photographer (my parents actually met at a photojournalism workshop my father was teaching at the University of Missouri). 

I grew up completely surrounded. Some of my earliest memories were in my dad's darkroom - I can close my eyes and almost smell the processing chemicals as I helped him change the filters or dodge and burn his prints. I wasn't really interested in learning but I learned by osmosis, whether cataloging slide film to earn some spending money or listening to my parents explain why a certain scene in everyday life was photographically brilliant. At Christmas when I was 22, my father gave me his old Nikon F's that he used in Vietnam - he was dying of cancer at the time and it was such a weighted gift, like he was passing me something of himself that he knew I would cherish. That's when I started shooting.  

After college, I contacted a photojournalism professor who I had met during my last semester of school - he recognized my last name and told me that my dad had been his lifelong mentor. The connection was serendipitous, and he felt an opportunity to pass along what he had learned. I'm grateful that he gave me the gift of spending Sundays together to help me learn photography. Also, during this time I worked at an advertising agency and was lucky to be surrounded by creative and generous friends who fielded my endless curiosity and believed in my talent. It was at this point that I knew photography was really something for me. It excited me and connected me to things that I believe in, giving me grounding in ways that nothing else did.  

In my mid-20's I moved to NYC to assist fashion photographers which really clarified what role I wanted photography to play in my life. For me, it needs to be something that's pure, honest, and uncluttered by a pressure to make money. Since then, I shoot what inspires me, interests me, challenges me. I participated in a Flash Powder Retreat which greatly clarified my work, path, and goals moving forward, as well as connected me with friends who I continue to learn from.


If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

I'm honestly just so humbled to be where I am and want to keep making work that connects with people. The fine-art world is one piece of my larger life, and the most important thing for me is that it continues to foster my growth and offers me the chance to get my work out to a larger audience. Recently, photo essays of my work in the south were published in Oxford American and The Bitter Southerner, and I got hundreds of comments and emails from people telling me how much my work meant to them, or how it inspired them to call home or plan a visit. That's really the greatest gift I could ask for... for my work to connect with people in some way. 

In an ideal world, getting a gallery show of a cohesive body of work would be the greatest accomplishment. I think about how incredible it would be to know that one my photographs is hanging in someone's home, who will look at it and always feel something. I do feel like I'm finally in a more focused place, and I hope to channel this and continue to grow my work in a way that will someday lead me here.


What are your goals for 2014?

To keep moving forward, to work on it every day. I would like to be able to find a balance between my photography, my day-job, and all the demands of living in NYC. I need to somehow carve out more space to explore, grow, create, and be inspired. That's my current struggle.  

Smaller goals are to become skilled at color printing so that I can enjoy the "object making" aspect of photography. I would like to apply for more portfolio reviews.  And I would like to continue to foster the relationships I've made in the photographic community, and to make new relationships with people who's work I admire. I've learned that these relationships are paramount.

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FOCAL POINT Q3.14 Interview: Jared Soares

FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

Describe the arc of your photography career so far. (How you got to where you are now, pivotal experiences/accomplishments/ influences, etc.)

Jared Soares, photograph by Justin Gellerson

Jared Soares, photograph by Justin Gellerson

The arc of my career dovetails with my interests outside of photography. It was never the plan to be where I am today, but I’m quite happy. When I was younger the line between documentary and fine art photography was a brick wall. Now that border is porous and nuanced. I’m interested in making photographs about topics and people that I care about and the labels don’t carry the same weight anymore for me.

When I was beginning to make photographs as a student, I was consumed by sports and through working at the college newspaper my attention shifted to news and community issues. I did a couple of internships at smaller newspapers before landing a staff job. Had I been born 10 years earlier, I would have probably stayed on the track of becoming a career newspaper photojournalist. My time at newspapers was more than I could have hoped for, each day served as a learning opportunity, and I was surrounded by talented and generous individuals who mentored me along the way.

Daily assignment photography helped me figure out that I prefer spending time on one topic and working in a series of images instead of hunting for stand-alone ones. Coupled with my interest in pursuing long-­form photography and the downsizing of newspapers, it made sense to leave my staff job and take control of my own future.

I’ve been working independently for the last four years with editorial and commercial clients. It has only been in the past two years that I’ve wandered into the fine art world. In 2012 I attended Review Santa Fe, and it served as an introduction to peers and collaborators. Most of my “accomplishments” or learned lessons can some how be traced back to that portfolio review.

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

The fine art world is another place that allows me to suggest an idea to a different audience. With that said, I’m interested in furthering my practice by creating work that is personal and also relevant to current events. And finding nontraditional places in the communities I’m working in to exhibit the work in order to introduce both outsiders and neighbors to each other.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

I’m fleshing out a new project idea and hope to begin working on it before the end of the year. Along with that, my main focus is to set aside time each week to make more photographs for myself. 

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FOCAL POINT Q2.14 Interview: Amelia Morris

FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

 

Describe the arc of your photography career so far.  (How you got to where you are now, pivotal experiences/accomplishments/influences, etc.)

Photo by Frank Espich of the Indianapolis Star

Photo by Frank Espich of the Indianapolis Star

I became interested in photography in my early teens, and when it came time to think about college, I decided that I wanted to study photography, too. While there I found the drive to make work based on autobiographical incidents and introspective reflection.   Soon after graduating, the financial crisis hit. For about a thousand reasons, I felt incredibly stuck: no one seemed interested in the work I had done in school, local photographers were tightening their belts and didn’t need assistants, and for the longest time, I couldn’t make a photograph I didn’t hate. I didn’t want to become a person who studies art only to drop it when times get tough, but I was becoming incredibly discouraged by my future prospects.

Eventually I was able to move out of my funk. My creative block finally lifted, and I slowly started to make work again. I embraced opportunities to meet new people and learn new skills. I shared my portfolio at the Society for Photographic Education conferences, started exchanging artist postcards in the Postcard Collective, and suddenly found myself connected to the broader photography world.  In 2012, I was awarded an emerging artist fellowship through The Arts Council of Indianapolis. Knowing that they supported my artistic endeavors gave my photographic career a pivotal boost. Last year, I won a scholarship to attend the Photolucida portfolio review festival where I showed an earlier version of An Honest Assessment. Looking back, even though I had been actively showing work and had support from local arts institutions, I still wasn’t convinced that people were actually interested in what I was doing. The Photolucida reviews made me realize that even though I’m still figuring out exactly where I want to be, my work is worthy of being seen.

Over the past couple years, I’ve  realized that I need to meander with a project to see its full potential. I need time (sometimes a lot) to internally process whatever I’m trying to express. An Honest Assessment is now about three years in the making, and it’s still growing. 15 of the photographs are included in the summer exhibition of at The Indianapolis Art Center, and when I see it on the wall, I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished.

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

I want to find some kind of balance between my art and everything else I do to pay the bills (or heck, find myself in the position that my photography career does play a larger part in paying the bills, all while staying true to how I make my best work…). But overall, I want to keep making quality work that people are interested in experiencing!

What are your goals for 2014?

I want to keep moving forward in a thoughtful way. I need to continue to foster the relationships I’ve made in the photographic community, even if it’s just writing someone I admire a note to tell them to keep up the good work. I also think it’s time for me to try new things. With some encouragement from friends, I’ve decided it’s time to start applying to residencies as a way to devote a period of time to only working on my projects.

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FOCAL POINT Q2.14 Interview: Sebastian Collett

FOCAL POINT surveys the landscape of emerging photographers and selects three talented, driven, and noteworthy artists to highlight each quarter.  Each FOCAL POINT photographer receives mentoring from Crusade for Art to think about their work, their target audience, and how to best engage them.  In this interview series, every FOCAL POINT photographer gets asked the same three questions, and their answers become a jumping off point for the mentorship.

 

Describe the arc of your photography career so far.

The arc of my photography career has been pretty unconventional, just like the rest of my life!

As a teenager, I was training to become a concert pianist.  I discovered photography in high school, thanks to the local college art library.  I hid books by Friedlander, Fink, Frank and Hockney inside my textbooks, so I could study them during class.  Photography offered an escape from the mundane prison of high school – a portal to faraway worlds. I taught myself to develop film and print in a 50 square foot darkroom cooperative.  As soon as the school day was over, I would run to the darkroom to discover what my camera had captured. Sometime I just sat there in silence, as you would in a sensory deprivation tank. The darkroom was my sanctuary.

I fully intended to major in music at Bard College.  But I was lucky enough to end up in a freshman photo class with Stephen Shore, and I never looked back. After graduating, rather than going to Yale, or interning with a famous photographer in New York, I decided to travel the world.  I spent time in queer alternative communities, did social work, lived in Europe, and played piano.  All the while I photographed prolifically, yet privately, showing my work to no one.  I could have become Vivian Maier, but instead I went to grad school.  I was finally ready to share my work with the world.  Since completing my MFA, I've been putting myself out there like never before.  Online platforms like Fraction Magazine and Crusade for Art have been an awesome part of this "coming out" process...

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art photography career, what would that look like?

I'm at a very exciting point in my career.  The great thing about being a "late bloomer", is that when you finally decide to step into the spotlight, you have a wealth of lived experience, which adds a depth and breadth to your work.  So in that sense, I'm exactly where I want to be in my career.  That said, I would like to be represented by an ambitious gallery, to have more group and solo exhibitions, to join more private and museum collections, to publish several books, and to have a teaching job where I can share my passion with a group of dedicated young photographers.  I can feel that many of these things are right around the corner –– sometimes I wonder if I will bloom or explode!

What are your goals for 2014?

2014 has been the best year of my life. I've already accomplished more this year than I expected to, and it's far from over!  I was thrilled to be awarded a residency at Hambidge, and grant from Light Work.  I've been included in shows at the Houston Center for Photography, Aperture Gallery, and the Philadelphia Art Museum, and I look forward to more.  I am working on a new book, and I just had a promising meeting with an awesome publisher. I would like to collaborate with other photographers, for both shooting and publishing projects. I would also like to have more editorial assignments and commissions, and so I welcome all suggestions and proposals!

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