Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I live in upstate NY with my husband and two young girls. I consider my work to be diaristic but not so much in a literal way; I take photos and then look back and try to make sense of them.

Sometimes I’ll have an idea while I’m shooting but too much direction in creating a series has never worked for me. I like to be surprised when I see the film and be challenged in the editing process. For me, relying on instinct is most important.

How do you balance photography and motherhood? Do you ever involve your daughters in your work?

Being a mom and an artist – there’s not really a balance between them right now. I have two daughters, aged five and one, so most all of my time is focused on them. I get maybe forty five minutes of “me” time a day and then it’s a choice between doing work, taking a shower or cleaning the house.

In order to make work I need time to really focus on zoning out – a thinking trance where ideas are allowed to flow. With kids there’s not a lot of brain time for myself because they never stop talking. But that’s okay, I adore their chattering and someday they won’t want to hang out with me so I want to enjoy it while I can. It just takes longer for me to get anything done.
As for involving them in my work, I don’t really. I take a lot of pictures of them but I don’t consider those to be work. I have my five year old pose for me but those images aren’t of her; she is modelling in them and she represents what all the models do in my work – myself.  I’m not interested in capturing the magic of childhood, she just happens to be a child. There is a lot of bribery involved in getting her to stay still.
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You use photography in a therapeutic way. Does this happen organically, or do you set out with an idea of how to express what you are going through?

I don’t know if photography is therapy for me as much as it is an absolute need. Is that too dramatic to say? I’ve noticed over the last twenty or so years I go through a cycle: there’s the ‘research stage’, which is where I read and look and take everything in around me and bottle up my emotions and I don’t take pictures; and then there’s the release where I go on auto-pilot and make pictures like a maniac. And then I snap out of it but the pictures have to wait until I can step back and make sense of them. These stages can vary greatly time-wise but as I’ve gotten older I’m more confident in letting more time pass.

The beginnings of my series’ really vary, sometimes it’s subconscious or in the case of one I’ve been working on the series was set off by one picture I took and that set the mood for other pictures. Sometimes I’ll have a specific image in my head and once in a blue moon I’ll see an image I have to copy: only paintings though, there’s no point in copying someone else’s photograph.

I never sit down and think “boy I’m feeling _____ I need to make pictures to express it.”

I think though generally my pictures give off a mood of lonesome thoughtfulness.

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Which paintings have inspired your work?

Only in the last few years I’ve started to like paintings and be interested in them. The real turning point for me was when I was at a museum with a friend (MOMA, I think) and we were looking at Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and my friend was in awe and I asked why it was considered to be so amazing. He pretty much answered “You either like it or you don’t.”

Not a great answer but it motivated me to look at paintings, learn what they’re about.
My current favorite painting is Ingres’ The Valpincon Bather.  That’s a constant inspiration for photographing my daughter. And of course there’s Magritte – is there any photographer who doesn’t look at Magritte? I swear if I see one more The Lovers imitation… c’mon people if you really need to copy, pick a different one… *cough*
What I really love is children’s books illustrators: James Marshall’s books and Edward Gorey’s works I look at every day. I’m trying to think of other painters or paintings but I’m drawing a blank. I like to look at everything, I’m lucky to have an amazing library so close by, I borrow a lot of books.
There’s one book I borrow all the time – Virtue and Beauty – which is paintings of women from the renaissance. I do love a good profile picture!

What has been the most difficult project to make?

The most difficult was without doubt my thesis project for my Masters degree. I did the one year program at London College of Communication and afterwards I felt like my brain was broken. I loved being in London, I had moved there from upstate New York but being alone in a different country was hard. It really informed the work I was making. I tried to work two ideas into my images: being alone vs. being lonely and the influence of the photographer on the subject (creating self portraits but using someone else in the photograph).

For me, the image is most important. In the program I found that the instructors believed that concept was most important. The way I work, making images first and then figuring them out later doesn’t work when you’re expected to hand in a thesis proposal less than two months into the program. And I had left my written paper until the last minute for the end of the year – it was an actual disaster.
That one year program is not for the weak of heart.
However, many many years later I’ve been able to make sense of the work I made then and edit it into something I’m very proud of. I self published a book of the series last year and I am currently working on a sequel, repurposing images into a way they make sense now when they didn’t at the time I made them.
Being challenged is important as an artist. Either while making work or editing it afterwards. If it’s easy it’s boring.
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How important do you feel it is to be working in a creative environment?

This may sound really weird but I didn’t find school to be much of a creative place? I’m pretty sensitive to judgement so making work specifically to be critiqued was hard – this is college I’m talking about. I’d say in fact the last time I felt encouraged creatively in a school environment was maybe fourth th grade (when I was ten or eleven).

I did a summer internship many years ago at the Center for Photography at Woodstock and that was such a positive environment to be in. Each weekend a new photographer came to do a workshop and everyone there had such good energy – they all wanted to learn and were so excited about photography! It was great. I don’t think I made any pictures that summer though!
I guess I don’t know the importance of a creative environment for myself; I do however believe that it is extremely important for children to be in one and I hope so far I’m doing right by my kids.
Of course, while I’m writing this my five year old has her face in the iPad… must go find the crayons!

What is the most important thing photography has taught you about yourself?

That’s a really tough question… it’s such a part of who I am and has been since I was fourteen or fifteen. Even if I don’t have a camera, I’m always looking, always seeing everything through a viewfinder. Everything is a photograph. Making photographs is what makes me whole as a person and the closest thing that comes to that feeling of fulfilment – of making an excellent photograph – is having kids, being a mom.

I think life experience has taught me about myself which then informs my photography.

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At what point did you realise you wanted to really pursue photography? Was there a defining moment/image?

There were moments for me that pushed me further into photography; when I finished high school I wanted to study photography at college and my parents were like “NO WAY! Not practical.”

I ended up at a liberal arts school that also had a fine arts program. I took general classes which were a complete waste of time, and I took as many photography classes as they would let me without actually being in the conservatory. At the start of my third year I tried to get into one particular photo class and the teacher kicked me out for not being part of the photography program. I was really angry about it so that very day I put together a portfolio, marched over to the Dean’s office and transferred into the visual arts program. I did not ask my parents for permission.

After college I was making pictures, but not in a focused way. I got pretty lost for a few years, I was really at the bottom of a pit and I knew I had to pull myself out and get back to school.

Around that time I visited friends in London and fell in love with it and I felt I had to live there. Being at grad school set me straight and improved my critical thinking which in turn has made my work better.

The latest push for me was last year having awful experiences submitting work to exhibitions, online and in galleries. The lack of professionalism and disrespect got to be overwhelming so I started my own little online gallery so I could treat photographers the way I would like to be treated. For example, when you submit your work, getting a response, an acknowledgement that you exist and are not just content. Maybe I’m just completely naive but I wish people would be more considerate of each other.

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What advice would you give to creative graduates?

Sort out your student loans! I wish I had been more responsible about mine.

That’s the boring answer!

My other advice is to keep learning and work really hard. Set goals both realistic and not. Your work is not as good as you think it is, it can always be better. Say yes to every opportunity and don’t burn bridges. I had a teacher who told our class to go to every gallery opening (private view) and get drunk and talk to everyone about yourself. Not really my style, but a few years later her work was on the cover of Artforum. So I suppose she knew what she was doing.

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You can see more of Jordanna’s work at rabbitandsparrow.com and view her online gallery at streithousespace.com