Subscribe to Blog via Email
I had been admiring Jennifer Shaw’s dreamy, visceral photographs for some time when I heard the news: she would be the 2018 Juror for the Somerville Toy Camera Festival (STCF), my favorite September event! An avid photographic experimenter and compelling visual storyteller based in New Orleans, Shaw has a concurrent solo show at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Her own fine artwork and her selections for the STCF have brought the Boston community a dazzling collection of imaginative photography. Wanting to learn more about the talented Jennifer Shaw, I’m delighted to present our recent conversation.
How did you become interested in photography? Was there a particular inspiration or experience that led you into it?
I started sneaking shots on my mom’s camera around the age of eight, and was given my first 35mm at twelve, but it was my introduction to the darkroom at fifteen that was the true point of no return. I took a summer class with Sarah McEneany at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and from then on spent every spare minute in the darkroom.
Your adopted home of New Orleans seems to be woven into the fiber of your artistic identity. Would you describe your various professional roles in the Crescent City? Is there a particular activity from which you derive the most joy and satisfaction?
Yes, New Orleans is a generous muse, and very fertile ground for an artistic life. I wear many hats here. I teach photography to high school students at McGehee, a private girls’ school with one of the last remaining darkrooms in the city. I print photogravures for Josephine Sacabo, a prolific artist and one of the most generous people I know. I serve as Creative Director of the PhotoNOLA Festival, working with an amazing team of volunteers to put on an annual photography festival. And then there’s my personal art practice. So it’s multi-layered, but each of these roles complements the others and they all feed me in different ways. Of course, if I could get away with doing nothing but my own art I’d disappear into the studio in a heartbeat.
As this year’s guest Juror for the immensely popular Somerville Toy Camera Festival (running throughout the month of September 2018 in three Somerville, Massachusetts venues), what criteria were most important to you? How do the photographs that you selected express the special appeal of toy camera imagery?
When curating an exhibition I’m looking for compelling images whose form and content work together to convey an idea, expressing the photographer’s unique point of view. For the Somerville Toy Camera Festival I selected photographs that transported me in some way. Spontaneity and experimentation are in evidence, along with threads of humor, mystery, and wonder. The selections feature a wide range of toy camera practices, from Diana to pinhole, to Holga, to Sprocket Rocket, to images that use the capture as a jumping off point and further embellish the work through collage, embroidery or gold leaf. There are photographs that have clear evidence of the toy camera aesthetic, such as dark corners, glowing highlights or light leaks, and others where the camera’s quirks are less obvious. I think the exhibition provides a wonderful overview of the creative possibilities that these simple tools can offer.
Electronic devices like the iPhone have produced an avalanche of snapshots – everything from “selfies” to what appears on our dinner plates – fundamentally changing the way we regard images, reality and truth. What impact do you think this has had on current practices of fine art photography, especially traditional film photography and alternative processes?
I think the digital revolution may have sparked a revival in traditional and alternative process photography, almost a rebellion if you will, as people want to get away from the screens that dominate our lives and return to a more physical form of image making. That said, I also think of cell phones as the modern day equivalent to plastic cameras, and believe anything that allows people to express themselves and discover the joy of photography is ultimately a good thing.
In my personal practice I’ve been a proud Luddite, sticking with film and wet darkroom long past the point that others transitioned to digital. I did finally purchase a smart phone in 2015, and I adore it, but have yet to actually print any of my phone pictures. That day will come, but for now I am immersed in a new photogravure project that is immensely fun and satisfying.
I’m excited to share The Space Between, a recent project about the ambiguities of motherhood, on view at the Griffin Museum of Photography through October 5th, 2018. It’s a personal documentary, focused on my children, friends and immediate surroundings. The series was photographed over several years using toy cameras – primarily Diana’s or Diana clones, and the images are selenium toned silver prints.
What is your favorite aspect of being the Creative Director of PhotoNOLA, the New Orleans Annual Festival of Photography?
The best part is the people I get to work with to make the festival happen, from the dedicated committee here to those who come in from afar to share their skills and wisdom with us. It’s a creative challenge finding the perfect puzzle pieces for each year’s line up, and the friendships and relationships that are built along the way are very rewarding. It’s gratifying to work toward a greater good, partnering with people and organizations to celebrate all things photography.
What do you think PhotoNOLA offers emerging photographers that is distinctive from other festivals?
PhotoNOLA is a festival created by photographers, for photographers. We try to keep programs accessible and affordable, and consciously work to create a supportive environment for attendees. It’s a beautiful cross-pollination of local and national talent coming together to learn from each other and, at its heart, is really about creating community.
What current trends in photography do you find most inspiring?
I’ve been enjoying the projects that utilize embroidery on photographs, as I’ve long had a soft spot for vernacular traditions of “women’s work” and appreciate the way artists are paying respect to that history in the realm of contemporary art. On a related note, I’m also interested in the ways that an increasing number of artists are re-contextualizing found and/or vintage prints.
The Somerville Toy Camera Festival is on view at three galleries throughout the month of September, with a lively schedule of special events.
For more information, go to: http://www.somervilletoycamera.org/festival-events/
Jennifer Shaw’s solo show The Space Between is on view at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA from September 11th – October 5th, 2018. She will give an Artist’s Talk at 4:00pm, followed by an Opening Reception from 5:30 -7:30pm on Sunday September 16th, 2018.
For more information about the exhibit and scheduled events, go to: https://griffinmuseum.org/show/jennifer-shaw-space/