Jessica Eaton’s work makes me think of a fountainhead from whence ineffable potential flourished and bounced endlessly and aimlessly in a vast conceptual field. It also makes me think of the complex, interconnected, inner workings of biological matter. Other times, it reminds me of the delicate, precise balance and random order of the existence of things. Upon experiencing her work, what becomes most apparent are all the layers of imaginative possibilities.
Such and Such Forms
Describe what happens when you conceive an idea.
Ideas just swim around a lot in my head. I feel like parts of all my ideas have been there since as early as my earliest memory. There is new inspiration or additional information everywhere. I am not sure about a specific beginning of my ideas or projects. Things just develop. I try to always practice taking photographs, trying things. Then I start planing something more complex, making up larger experiments. Once I start acting on the plan things change a lot. Within the process there is often a teetering between a priori and posteriori knowledge. It never stops amazing me how much can shift in a moment once you are actually doing, it’s like some vicious circle where once you physicalize the thoughts the bolts come loose and sooner or later something will fly right off and land somewhere else. A good example is an ongoing series of studies under the project title 108 and Other Obstructions which involve various types of in camera masking. I was thinking about this project for over a year before I did any testing. Although the “thought year” is important to the work – it is what informs it as well as my experience of the results – I remember very vividly shooting my first tests using paper in the camera and feeling this rush where I knew that I had just realized as much in ten minutes of doing as I had in a year of thinking. I love that feeling of realisation or epiphany, I long for it. I often set up parameters for phenomena to express itself. In the best of cases I push things so that the response comes in ways that I could not have thought up until I was shown it on film. Once you get to see or experience something you can use it. Then you can use it to see something else. If this keeps going you will be busy. When the photographs I am getting back from the process no longer amaze me or cause a sense of wonder, it is time to switch some parameters or ask a new question. If I blank on the question to ask, I go back to practicing. Practice for me is really exercises in seeing and interpreting the vision, and also testing to deepen the understanding of the materials and machines – observing how they react to changes. I think often about how different it is to paint or do something more directly involving the hand. With photography you have to be more of a medium or a conductor.
Can you talk about some of the challenges that you confront in your art practice?
The challenge is always myself. Leaving art school and continuing to pursue art you really have to start to find yourself. Gone is the support group, gone are all the cameras and equipment and studio space you had come to think of as yours, gone is the rationale for spending the time, money and effort making ‘art’ that is awarded to you under the guise of post-secondary education. Here is reality. I made very very few photographs in 2007, the year after school. I disappeared to the country, out of Vancouver, working on a film crew and living in residence on set for a year. Living outside a small town and working full time gave me a well-timed opportunity to start to define how important making photographs is to me, as well as put me in a position to be able to purchase a basic set of tools (4×5, scanner, computer) to make photographs. Since then I just keep trying to push to attain the privileged position of doing what I love most. It is not easy. It is easy to make up excuses and manifest your own failure or to become filled with self doubt, and those things can be paralyzing.
I think in order to productively make the photographs that interest me, I have to ignore some degree of thinking about meaning. There are gamuts of opinions about what types of photographs people like or what they think photography is or should be or how it should-can-will function. Photography is a medium almost lost in possibility and politics. I personally feel so completely inspired and invested in my work, that to step back and have one of the images I made lead me to wonder if I am bad person (or even more ridiculous, wondering if I might be a better one if I took on a documentary project) is a complete waste of time. I want to make all types of photographs in my lifetime, and so far have. When in the middle of making any photographs the last thing I want distracting me is thoughts of other photographs, other ways. The time to focus on those is when I invest in making them. Getting fear, negative ideas and guilt out of the head is really liberating and can be a challenge. What is most important is to just keep working in any way possible. The way I have started to see it: as long as any photograph I produce leads to producing another, that’s good. Criteria imposed either by myself or others such as to the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of a photograph are arbitrary. As long as I keep making, some photographs will suck and others won’t. Assertions about which is which will often only be proven wrong if not now, then later. Besides, my mother told me that F doesn’t stand for failure. It stands for feedback.
Spatial Relation 27
Is there a pattern to the way you make art?
When I try to think about patterns in how I make art, I can’t come to any clear understanding that is separate from trying to negotiate logistics. I am ready to do a lot of work I cannot afford.
Digital or analog?
I really enjoy tech talk, but I would never place any inherent value in the medium. The value is in the work itself and can art can come out of any means. My ideas about what that might include are wide open. I should say though that other than work that was made with the specific intention of being experienced online it is essential to experience art outside of that box. With all the greatness of the ways the Internet democratizes, with works of art this includes debasing or elevating in that context. When I see photographs online I like I know how much room there is to disappoint should it become a 20×24″ print or once contextualized with that persons body of work. There is also the photographs that seem like countless others but blow my mind as a print. It reminds me of how because of art history classes most of the worlds paintings are to me the size, texture and colour (Ektachrome 64T in most cases) of the projected 35mm slide. Always go to galleries.
For myself, the answer is both. There is no “or”. I follow ideas down paths and the medium and processes could vary. I shoot a lot on film, and there are many reasons why. Often it is a quality thing. I have spent my entire adult life thinking about, looking at and practicing photography. There are subtler qualities within a photographic image I have come to desire and expect, so the choice to use a 4×5 transparency over a DSLR with a CMOS just reflects my knowledge of those mediums’ differing capabilities. Sometimes the reasons are more conceptual: film can afford possibilities in ways digital cannot – not more or fewer possibilities, just different sets of possibilities. The same goes for the cameras, a reflex camera and a view camera can do different things, especially with planes…. and then there are the lenses. The difference between a wide and a telephoto lens is not just “how much” you can get in a frame but the way foreground and background relate to each other and contort to camera position. A fantastic motion example of how immense this relationship is exists as the dolly zoom, first used and made famous in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Even if I were to only ever shoot film, being a photographer in my time requires its digitization. For any emerging photographer today, it would be very difficult not to use scanners and imaging software and not to study photography in its digital form on the internet. The present reality simply must have its influence.
I have been making many photographs in camera that expose film with many many layers. This method is informed equally by historic practices and my experience working in Photoshop. I did some studies this year playing with digitized photographs at the binary level, hacking the information. I always want to have some understanding at base type level in addition to a user one. I also do tons of tests – digital captures – because there is no immediate additional expense and the immediacy of the results speeds things up or clarifies things. A DSLR makes a pretty good light meter. Sometimes the digitally captured tests turn out as images I can’t dismiss or replicate because of contingencies. It can be heartbreaking when that happens and you want to get a decent print, especially at sizes larger than 16×20. But this is my reality at the moment. Better to try to do something of interest with a DSLR than not at all. The technology is changing quickly. Certainly there are larger sensors that make much more impressive photographs, but I have never tried them – they are presently beyond my means. This type of problem isn’t exclusive to digital, it can be heartbreaking when you get a perfectly exposed 4×5 transparency and you happened upon a light and it’s angle that registers on the film as particularly three dimensional and metallic looking and you know that no classic nor new reproduction method is capable of exactly reproducing it.
For me, the essence of working with film, especially in complicated ways, means certain accidents can happen in ways they can’t with digital imaging. In the accidents or relationships I always find things of interest – something I didn’t already know. In Photoshop, I could simulate the image to some degree, but I will only be expressing my often misguided will. With digital imaging, one thing no longer has to affect another so directly or naturally, this is part of what inspired me to work with the code, it freed me from my direct will and I was forced to except and work with the nature of the medium. If I started investing even more time into digital, no doubt additional things of interest will come – new projects, new questions. The future is certainly filled with a multitude of new approaches found via digitization. It has been suggested that I try to make photographs on film that could more easily be done in Photoshop, that I am some sort of analogue purist. That is not the case. My motivation is curiosity and the desire for visual and intellectual stimulation. It has nothing to do with fighting technology. I love technology. It is the most promising tool to create a better tomorrow.
At the moment, what are you excited about?
A zillion things! Always. Here are three:
I am very excited about one of my current projects. It’s a series called Pinholes, and it involves more in camera masking. This new work is much more chaotic than anything else I have done. The results are super exciting and within the whole process I am discovering things. The series also takes scale into prominent consideration – an interest that was reinforced by doing two solo exhibits in 2009. For economics reasons, I made those prints small, and they were all about the same size – as if I was representing a survey of ideas rather than a collection of objects. It was the only way at the time. Now I am working towards showing work that can be realised as each piece necessitates – spending some time thinking about the photograph’s potential as an object. It has been working out that when printed at an ideal size, these new photographs actually change with respect to the viewer’s physical proximity to it.
I am excited that I finally meet all the requirements to apply for the Canada Council for the Arts grant funding. (please dear Universe, please) Hope is not only nice, but a fantastic motivator.
I am also excited about the internet. The interest in and exposure for my work it has afforded me as an emerging artist without gallery representation is unprecedented. I have started meeting, working with, following and sharing photography and ideas with people all over the world who are as passionate and engaged with things as I am. You can constantly be sharing information. You have this sense of being a part of something so much greater than anything I would be capable of on my own, which suggests possibilities like never before. You can feel so much movement. All the rules are still open. There are of course inherent problems and there is potential for it to end up a disaster. The state of the world seems to be at the crux of two possible futures, the apocalyptic version is what happens if we accept and continue to support the world order and ideologies we were born into. The benevolent one requires a lot of restructuring and seems possible through technology and sharing information. At present I am more than happy to make what old ways and economies might see as sacrifices, in order to have the opportunity to really redefine order and inclusion, and help create better, kinder, more enlightening systems of values.