Emaho talks to Jennifer Glass Andersen also known as the “contrast queen” who has been fascinated by the art of photography (including the alchemy of it) since she was 6, hadn’t held a camera till she was 15. An aberrant from the rest of her photography class in almost everything she did, Jennifer is known to use the rather unique Fox Talbot albumen method for processing her images. Jennifer’s work is part of Elton John’s private collection.
What made you start out as a photographer?
When I was about 6, my father who was a newspaper editor would bring me to work sometimes. He would find me hours later, absorbed in the darkroom with the photo journalists learning how to bleach, dodge, burn and crop. They had stacks of old magazines loaded with amazing photographs. I would bring them home and get lost in them. My mother was always supportive and told me to do what I love no matter what it was. That’s what fuelled me. I can still see those pictures hung in the dark room. However, I never used a camera till I was 15.
The Fox Talbot albumen method sounds very interesting, and it seems like you absolutely love it! What is this process all about?
I love the process because it is physics, chemistry, and art put together. Talbot used the camera obscura, a small box with a lens at one end which used light to project an image onto frosted glass at the back so he could make realistic tracings of scenes. Famous astronomers, architects and painters who preceded Talbot were aided by this and included the likes of Da Vinci, Vermeer and Canaletto. In 1834, Talbot found that a sheet of paper, coated with salt and silver nitrate, darkened in the sun. He used this to make botanical tracings. He set a pressed plant on sensitized paper, covered it with glass, and set it in the sun. Wherever the light struck, the paper darkened, but wherever the plant blocked the light, it remained white. He called this “the art of photogenic drawing.” Further experimentation led him to the “calotype”, Gallic acid, which provided a permanent means of recording images using a camera.
I have always loved experimenting with alchemy in new ways. The depth and resonance as well as the fragility of it is so real, imperfect, and raw. I’m drawn to the organic qualities that chemistry processes bring to an idea that I have. It is so pure and it is beyond my control. It’s exciting to see what transpires between artist and chemistry as it is between the artist and subject.
What do you look for while taking a photo? What emotion runs through you while taking a shot?
My first thoughts for years were, “I hope I don’t mess up technically”. I was always in trouble in school for that. For being a contrarian. If there was a “rule”, I wanted to do it differently. I guess I was one of those kids who colored outside the lines. At 15, my photography instructor kicked me out of class because I “didn’t follow the rules”. I was a member of the national Art Honor Society. Now I just let things happen organically. Pushing the rules is how I discovered different chemical processes in my work. With portraits, I want to strip my subjects of any ego or pretences. To capture what is raw and beneath the surface. I suppose I’m that way with my landscapes most of my other work.
You seem to love using darker tones. Is there a purpose behind it?
Haha! I’ve been accused of that my whole life! I was called the “contrast queen” in photo class. I suppose it comes from two places in my brain. My years with the photojournalists and, my appreciation for Flemish painters. Or maybe it’s just how I see things. I enjoy discovering secret stories in the shadows. It’s interesting. I can now see myself exploring the tangled growth of the south Florida Island where I grew up, which is a big part of me.
Here is a deep artistic feeling in your photography. Do you believe in bringing out an edge, a sort of uniqueness to your pictures?
I hope one can build an emotional connection or response to my work. Love it, hate it, but feel something. Every reaction tells a different story. I see stories in images. Are there any elements of Art that you work with in your photographs? I doubt it, given my propensity to break rules. Although, music is art and I often get set on a certain album and find myself doing an entire body of work around the songs in my head. When Ray Charles’ “Genius loves company” was released, I must have spent 3 years listening to it over and over again for hours while shooting tangled landscapes and portraits. Well I suppose my Talbot explanation is ingrained in me.
Any favourite subjects to shoot?
Anything that moves me where I can feel it in my gut. I love people. I’m very social and curious. I love to learn about people and their idiosyncrasies. I want to know them. I want to photograph them in their own space, surrounded by their things -raw. I used to do regular portrait commissions, but now I accept very few. I don’t want to just “document” someone. I want to get inside them. That takes time and synergy.
There is, usually, always someone who inspires one to follow. Do you have any one like that who has inspired or inspires you?
Oh yes! Cezanne said “have your influences, but time will come to shed them as a snake sheds his skin”. Capa, Walker Evans, Callahan, Arbus, Mann, Steichen, Mark, Frank, Ronis, Barney, Struth, Meatyard, Vermeer, Da Vinci, the FSA shooters, so many. My life for many years consisted of extensive travel with frequent formal dinners, and rather haughty political events. It started to wear on me. Too “Great Gatsby” I suppose. I began photographing all of it including our home life, the people, and travels. During that time, I attended a week long workshop with Mary Ellen Mark. She saw the images and really liked them. She pressed me to keep documenting that lifestyle because she said very few experience it. I have yet to show that work other than a few images. Maybe I should pull them out soon!
Where all has your work been exhibited?
Jackson Fine Art-Atlanta Soho Myriad-Atlanta Foosner museum of art-Florida Ruth Funk museum-Florida Kevin Longino-Houston Texas Photo LA-Los Angeles Ritz Carlton Hotels worldwide Arthur Blank foundation I also have upcoming exhibitions in California and Paris this fall.
Sir Elton John has your works in his private collections. How does this make you feel?
Honestly, I remember thinking “I’m so happy these pieces were collected before him because I know they were appreciated for what they are rather than who owns them”. Having said that, I’m very appreciative of all my collectors.
What is the best thing to have happened to you as a photographer?
I had an image on the table at Jackson Fine Art. The curator for the high museum came in and asked “how much is the Sally Mann?”. Soon after, they hung that piece in a group show between Arbus and Mann. I got a call the next morning. She said: Jennifer, “It was the only image to sell opening night. Images never sell opening night”. It also happened to be the first image I ever sold.
Interviewed by: Manik Katyal and Surabhi Chowdhury
Photographs by: Jennifer Glass Andersen