We needed to bring a photographer into the artist Q&A mix, so last week I sat down with artist and photographer Jordan Jurich-Weston and got the low down on what she is up to right now. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jordan and getting to follow her work for just over a year now. Not only is she a technical genius with film photography, but her work is just really damn beautiful.
For the full interview, scroll down.
Valerie Thompson: What led you into your current art-making practice?
Jordan Jurich-Weston: Well, back in high school I was a very academic student… thinking I was going to be a biology major in college and be a doctor. And when I hit about 16 or 17, we had a pretty major family crisis – my dad got really sick and almost died. He actually survived, but in that sort of transformative period of my adolescence, teenage years, it kind of hit me all of a sudden like “wow,” life can really be ripped from you for no reason, and suddenly; and we have no control over anything in our lives. Like I should really try and pursue something that I love as opposed to something I am supposed to do, so I took a photo class in my senior year of high school and was really excited about thinking and approaching the challenge of art-making, which to me for the first time was something I just really didn’t…couldn’t wrap my head around. Like how does this work, what is happening…if I take a picture from this angle it makes something look different. It was really challenging, so like I said for the first time I felt challenged, whereas math and science was just kind of easy, you know? Like there was “A” plus “B” equals “C” type of thing, and so I was really attracted to the challenge of expressing myself in a visual way. Now 10, 11 years later I’m here in grad school…it’s been a longer journey than just that, but that was what got me started.
VT: How important are film photography principles to your practice? …how important is the act of using film?
JJW: So, a photographer that I admire a lot – his name is Ryan Muirhead, he’s actually more of a fashion photographer than anything – but he said this thing…that if he had a digital camera in front of him, shooting with a digital camera, it is so easy to get distracted by the screen on the back – checking the image, and all the things you can hide behind. But a film camera is so straightforward. You choose your f-stop and your shutter speed. Your film stock is already decided, and you can’t see the image you’re shooting. And that, to me, is huge in my process. Because I do shoot with a digital camera for professional purposes, but when I’m shooting my art images, I have twelve chances on a roll to get it right in that moment, and I usually only use one or two of them for a specific moment – one or two frames – and I can’t review what I just shot. I have to just let that go. Plus, film is gorgeous (laughs) and working with the physicality of it…it’s half timing and the way you shoot, you have to put a lot of emphasis on each image…it’s just really fun to work with, you know. But it’s a process, because I scan them in and print them.
VT: So what attracted you to film photography, specifically? Why did you choose it as the medium to communicate your ideas, versus, say – painting?
JJW: It has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the first thing I picked up that I felt I could really express myself with. I tried painting, actually, when I was a kid…horrible with a paintbrush (laughs.) In undergrad I messed around a little with drawing, but I always come back to photography because… you can’t get away from the real world when you’re taking a picture, but you can orchestrate what it is you’re taking a picture of. You have so much control over what you’re taking a picture of. To me, I’m really excited about the idea of…transforming a space without the use of Photoshop, without the use of anything, just the use of light in a space, or my angle of the photograph, or the framing…can really distort and make an image that’s interesting, and thats really fascinating to me.
VT: Well its particularly important these days, since Photoshop is so prevalent. You almost can’t trust an image anymore.
JJW: Right, exactly. And for me…I just have no interest in that; I have no interest in Photoshopping myself in front of the Eiffel tower or whatever. It’s not exciting. But what is exciting to me is the scene using light, using time, and exposure to play with different things…there’s that playfulness, and there’s also just…distortion of reality.
VT: So photography has gone through many iterations through out history…first we had film technology, how the digital image…what do you say is the next iteration?
JJW: Where photography is right now is a weird space, I feel like. Because of how good cell phone cameras are, its kind of …given everyone the ability to take good pictures. Its all digital right now it seems; Its all existing and being perpetuated through digital means. Just based on that alone, I think there’s probably going to be a big resurgence in the print medium – hopefully. But I know at least for me, I know that …even just the printed image or the image on the screen doesn’t feel like enough, that’s why I’m starting to try to do a little bit of installation work, where you have to be in the space to see it, to experience it – as opposed to seeing it on the computer.
VT: So how would you describe your relationship with your medium? Your camera?
JJW: I love my camera. I kind of hate battling with technology though, and I’m not a huge fan of editing on the computer. So maybe it’s a love/hate relationship? (laughs)
VT: What do you shoot with?
JJW: I shoot with a Hasselblad 500 CM and a wide-angle 50 mm lens.
Valerie Thompson: When I first met you, I was very impressed with your technical skills in photography.
Jordan Jurich-Weston: It’s crazy, I counted up the years recently and I’ve been professionally photographing for about 10 years now, which feels like a really long time because I’m not that old. When I was in undergrad, I got the opportunity to be a wedding photographer’s assistant and I started getting paid to take pictures. And then in undergrad, because I needed to make money and have money for my art, I was also the paperweight photographer for a glass gallery. And then also was honing in on my skills in shooting film – both color and black and white – and I just spent all my time either working professionally for other people, or in the darkroom. That was my undergrad experience…and kind of just carried that into what I do now.
VT: Do you think working in the professional realm of photography for so long kind of launched you into this need to do something personal?
JJW: Yeah, well then I took a break. So when I graduated from undergrad, I was feeling really tumultuous inside with my personal work – I needed to sort a lot of real world things out. And my art was getting to a place I couldn’t quite handle and I needed a break from it. And so I took about five years off, and in those five years [I] was photographing kids for a portrait company. And doing that kind of work was just so repetitive. It was working with people, but it wasn’t creative, and it wasn’t “me” necessarily. I was a technician – which I got to be pretty good at, but it really pushed the need for me to get back into the arts and explore a lot of those deeply personal spaces that I wasn’t allowed to do for like five years…and I also sort of forced myself not to do, because I needed a break. It’s one of those things for me, where in undergrad I was just digging, digging, digging…trying to get to something. I’m not quite sure I knew what it was then, and looking back at it now, I was trying to figure out who I was…those were very big years. Like 18, 19, 20, 21, you know. You’re independent for the first time, trying to sort out where you are in relation to the world, and it’s really hard to do, you know. And my art is a lot about trying to sort out that identity – trying to sort out who you are in relation to other people.
VT: I remember that first time when I tried to kind of like sit there and envision how other people could possibly see me, and you can never know. You can project a certain version of yourself in the hopes that people might see you in a certain way, but you can never be sure and that’s really quite baffling.
JJW: Yeah, it is. I struggled with that a bit…my internal world is so much more complicated than I think my external self comes off. One of the assignments that really started me on this path when I was in undergrad…we were asked to do an autobiographical portrait of ourselves, and so I started taking some self-portraits and that was the first time that I really realized there’s something really interesting in that relationship of taking a portrait of yourself and then printing it and looking – really looking – at yourself, externally, and trying to…push through some sort of connection, through a gaze or through an expression. I guess I’ve just always felt disconnected, my internal world feels disconnected from my external world, and so I’ve been trying to reconcile that for a long time in my photography…how to create some sort of document of how I feel.
VT: …and it’s very hard to transfer that to somebody else. There are these sensations that as humans we all have in common, but sometimes they’re not necessarily things you can put into words, or into an image.
JJW: Well, you know in my earlier attempts, I would take just basic self-portraits, or I would set up a scene and put myself in it; mostly self-portraits in my own space…it used to be in my apartment that I shared with a roommate, then a big house that I shared with a bunch of roommates. Now I’m doing the same thing but in the house I live in now with my husband, and…there’s something about that I feel like…if you can get through to that really personal space and show yourself in that personal space in an intimate way, it becomes very universal.
VT: So on the self-portraiture note, photography as a medium raises a lot of questions to do with “looking” and being looked at, especially with self-portraiture. When we look at a photograph – a portrait – of someone…something that happens where you…cross a barrier. So when you’re doing self-portraiture, that kind of makes you the object of having people cross into your space. Is that part of why you do a lot of self-portraiture?
JJW: I kind of do a mixture of different perspectives in my self-portraiture. Some of them are…I’m trying to put the viewer in my eyes. Like, here’s my hand in front of me…you’re looking at my hands the way I look at my hands. And then there’s also portraits…self-portraiture where I’m sort of acting out performative gesture; and in those instances…they’re more about trying to tell a little bit of a narrative, a bit of a story; and then there are others that are straight portrait, and in those you see my whole face or most of my face. It’s mostly about the gaze; the gaze that I’m having. And a lot of the time I want to be completely confrontational with that gaze…so there’s those three different modes, and I use a lot of my family members, and loved ones as stand-ins…when you take a portrait of someone else it’s almost a portrait of you as well. Or it’s a portrait of your relationship with that person, if it’s somebody who is close to you. So I photograph my husband a lot, and a lot of the photos of him are about that relationship. And it’s not really about him; it’s sort of the way I am reflecting how I feel about him. Or how something that’s going on in our relationship…trying to get to some little bit of truth, there.
VT: So one of the modes of self-portraiture you discussed is the performative, gestural kind… so would you say that when you’re making those images, the headspace that you’re in at the time that you’re performing those gestures…is kind of the most important element, or more important?
JJW: Like I said, I feel like those are still really unresolved for me. I’ve kind of gone away from them a little bit. But I had this realization, with the help of a tutorial professor last year, that staying in those moments longer helps get a message across. So it’s complicated. The headspace that I’m in…like I’m trying to push and push to get into a certain headspace, to get a certain feeling across in the portrait, or in the photograph. And part of it is going out to…like a lot of these happen out in the landscape. Like part of it is going out into the landscape and doing these actions, just as a sort of like ritual…communing with the world.
VT: Seeking a message.
JJW: …part of it is wanting to make a cool-looking photo (laughs) but I had a really cool experience last year, a friend of mine went out with me and I had her pose nude with a mirror on her head. And building up to that it was just such an interesting experience…because I work so much with myself, and I’m comfortable being nude or partially nude and taking pictures of myself, or having my husband take those pictures. But it was such an interesting experience. We were in Joshua Tree (National Park), and we were taking those photos. And then I got nude because I was trying to get bits of my reflection coming off in the mirror…it was such a bizarre experience, being out in this weird, alien landscape, having this really raw, intimate experience shooting.
VT: So in relation to an image of a performative gesture, I feel like a lot of people…there’s pressure to do something “for the image.”
JJW: Yeah, when I go out to do those pieces…sometimes I’ll start with an image in my head that I’m trying to get. Like I’ll have a flash of something like “oh, in a field…running!” but that’s it…I don’t really storyboard at all. I’ll go out…I bring a few things and just interact with that space…it’s organic but its also…it’s hard, because I want to, and I’m working on spending more time in that space. Spending more time in that headspace – thinking of it more as a performance, and less like an action for a photograph. That’s something I’m working on, actively.
VT: So where are you headed next?
JJW: So I actually like to work 2D and then 3D and then 2D and then 3D. That’s sort of like a cycle I’ve been doing for a while, where I’ll build something small or big, and then I’ll take more pictures and print them. It kind of gives me a nice balance between working with my hands, versus working in a very mental headspace. So right now…I’ve been playing around with the idea of having a floor that sound comes through. And I’m building my third iteration of that installation idea right now. It’s going to be an 8ft by 8ft platform when it’s done. I’m building it in two parts. It’s going to be sort of a sound experience installation.
To see more of Jordan’s work, head to her portfolio website:
Here is her commercial website too, for good measure: