Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rewriting the Artist Statement

The act if creating is ever evolving. I started The Burn series 3 years ago. The artist statement written a while back felt lacking because there was a subtext to the work that I was not sharing. Time has passed and there is more clarity on how and why I made the work. Having a solo show opening next week in San Francisco at the Corden Potts Gallery has encouraged me to reevaluate the artist statement. I have been reworking the statement for the past week and think I have finally arrived at what, exactly, I want to say.

Burn No. 49

Here it is....

"While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed prairie burns, I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of the single moment when life and death are not opposites, but rather parts of a single process to be embraced as a whole.

As fate would have it, this project began on the same day (and actual hour) of my sister’s first chemotherapy treatment, having just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The parallels between the burn and chemotherapy were immediately revealed to me as I photographed with my sister in my heart and mind.

Burning helps reduce invasive vegetation that crowd out native plants, allowing sunlight to reach the seedlings. By opening the woodlands to more daylight, the fires prepare the soil for new spring growth, and the cycle of renewal continues. So too, chemotherapy removes unwanted growth, allowing for new healthy cells to reestablish themselves. It was with this deeper understanding of the life cycle that these images were created."

Burn No. 45, included in the group juried show, "Fantastic Landscapes," gallery 310 conTEMPORARY @ 310 S. Michigan, Chicago, August 2nd - September 30, Reception, September 9th from 5-8pm.

Along the subject of cancer, I have another "body" of work on breast cancer that a fellow artist commissioned me to create. It can be seen HERE but is not for the faint hearted.

There is also a wonderful group of women who created Recovery On Water (ROW), a mutually-empowering rowing team that gives survivors of breast cancer the unique opportunity to interact, become active in their recovery, and gain support from fellow survivors. They are having a fund raiser in the Chicago area September 11th. Click HERE for more information.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mark Strand Poem and Pix

You there;

Come with me into
the world of light
and be whole,

For the love you thought had been
dead a thousand years

Is back in town
and asking for you.

Mark Strand

(taken last year in Tampa, Florida)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dave Anderson ~ One Block : A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds

Dave Anderson has a newly released book from Aperture, One Block : A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds.

I saw some of the work last December when I attended PhotoNOLA. The images were full of grace. It is thrilling to see that the book is now released along with an accompanying exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art AND an actual block party on Saturday, August 28, 4:00–7:00 pm, on the 500 block of Flood and Caffin Streets (on the actual block where the photographs were made). There will be musical performances by Rebirth Brass Band and Little Freddie King plus food from a surprise New Orleans chef. If you are in the area, you won't want to miss this party!

I find myself marveling at the simplicity, elegance, dignity and understated compassion contained in each of these images. These residents were in the best of hands when they agreed to be photographed by Dave. Aperture has accompanying videos of the subjects on their site, well worth a visit.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Few Summer Highlights

This has been an action packed summer with so many highlights, one of which just happened for the second day in a row. I was riding my bicycle this morning when I spotted 2 wild parakeets. I was stunned. Yesterday I thought maybe one escaped from someone's home. Today, that theory didn't hold up. There was a couple sitting on their porch and I inquired if they belonged to them. Turns out there are wild parakeets nesting in Hyde Park...and I guess some have migrated to Evanston! It was so thrilling. Here is an article from the Chicago Wilderness Magazine.

My all time very favorite thing to do is go for an early morning swim in Lake Michigan. The season is short which makes the activity all that more precious. Last weekend I went for a sunrise swim. While I was out in the water the temperatures of the air and water were such that steam started to rise all around me. I was stunned with how beautiful the old wood pilings were with the sea gulls sitting on top surrounded by a veil of mist. It was magical. The image is seared in my memory.

I love to sit in my backyard watching all the life affirming activity. Between the birds, butterflies, bees, cicadas, dragonflies, bunnies and chipmunks, it is a very busy place!

I loved celebrating my mother's 90th birthday with my entire family, including my 3 month old grandchild. What was really amazing was when my nephew tilted a fan upwards and placed several balloons in the "wind tunnel." Watching the balloons dancing while suspended in the air was enormously entertaining. I highly recommend it.

I loved watching my granddaughter run around the back yard in her pick tutu and butterfly wings...

And I loved being in Mexico on top of the pyramid of Teotihuacan at noon, watching the swarms of much that I will be working on an installation piece for Frontera Grill this fall...more to come on that!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"...being without intent...."

This is a post worth repeating as I think of the lingering days of summer...

Last October I spent 2 weeks at Ragdale for an artists residency. My home was the Beach Room in the Barn. Next to my bed was a notebook in which previous artists shared some thoughts about their time spent at Ragdale. There was an essay on the word "squander" written by Johanna Keller on July 15, 1999. I was so taken with it that I photocopied it and have had it on my bulletin board for the past 9 months. I just unearthed it and with Johanna's permission, would like to share it...

v., to spend wastefully or extravagantly (according to the Webster's New Dictionary on the desk in the Beach Room)

In art, as in nature, nothing is wasted.

Cherish the hour lost to the shimmer of cottonwoods rimming the prairie, the afternoon swimming in the lake, the croquet game at dusk. Let yourself be a child bedazzled by the town fireworks on the Fourth. Write of love-making on the creaky bed. Search for dusty treasures in the attic. Rock on the screened porch reading a book that serendipitously came to hand, a book you didn't bring with you, one that wasn't on the planned list.

Plan?List?----those are words left behind, words for the architects of the busy world, for the makers of cities and maps, for the times when it is necessary to know the destination and estimated time of arrival (and there are those times in the creative life).

But, in this long month of summer, I don't know where I'm going. I confess to allowing myself to drown in a sweet delirium of sensory experience. The result has been new and strange poems, daring essays, and odd drawings whose purpose and place in my manuscript are unclear to me as yet.

I don't know my path, but I'm traveling extravagantly.

Art spends us extravagantly, demands we lavish our lives on it. And in return, at the times when the deepest impulse is gathering force, we experience a blessed state of being without intent.

We enter a space previouly unimaginable, surprising, dangerous, uncharted on any map. This place of impressions is very like the tangled and subtle prairie with its unplanned glories of wildflowers, tall grasses, cattails, dragonflies, birds, sky. And at the center of it, we find the source. Encircled by stones laid by other hands many years ago, brimming with liquid light, the wellspring is a small eruption, a rupture in the earth, the location of correspondence. It is here where what lies underneath comes to the surface, where the invisible is transmitted into the world of the senses. It is here the unseen becomes known to us."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monthly Photography Magazine Interview ~ South Korea

The August issue of a Korean photography magazine called "Monthly Photography" in which I was interviewed just came in the mail. There is a 12 page spread, spanning many years of my photography career. I don't speak or read Korean but have the English translation which I thought I would share.

MT ~ When and how did you first start your career as a photographer? (What motivated you to become a photographer? On your website, you stated that you have practiced clinical social work for 35 years.)

JFA ~ I have been a part time practicing clinical social worker for over 35 years. When my youngest child began grammar school and some time freed up, I began taking art classes and decided to try photography as I had just purchased a new camera in preparation for a trip to South East Asia. At the start of the class I did not really understand the nuances or poetic potential of photography. I had an exceptional teacher, Richard Olderman, who taught me to see with my heart. I learned over time that the camera was just another tool for expressing oneself.

MT ~ Where and why did you shoot the ‘Burn’ series? How long did it take you to finish the series? Looking at the series works, you must’ve been working while the prairie was still burning, and that seems very dangerous. What was the most difficult thing while working on this series? What would you say the subject of this series is? What motivated you to choose this subject for your work?

JFA ~ The seeds of inspiration for The Burn series was years in the making. I have always been attracted to the mysterious qualities of smoke and fire. I remember passing an open field of burning fire while traveling in Mexico. I had wanted to photograph then but the circumstances at the time did not allow it.

In the fall of 2008 I was attending an artist residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. Ragdale is situated on acres of beautiful prairie land. While I was there the restoration ecologists were doing a small controlled burn. Controlled burns are crucial to the restoration of natural habitats. The burning helps reduce non-native vegetation that can crowd out native plants, allowing sunlight to reach very young native plant seedlings. I began talking to the ecologists and inquired about photographing with them. They said that would be fine but I would need to wait until the spring, as the controlled burns were finished for the season.

The following spring, in early April, I called them. As fate would have it the restoration ecologists were heading out to do their first burn that very day. I was elated....and was also the first day (actual hour) of my sister's first chemotherapy treatment. She had been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The Burn was photographed with my sister in my heart and in my mind. There are many parallels between the prairie burn and the chemotherapy. The burning of the brush or application of the chemotherapy clears the dead underbrush/cancer cells, making way for new healthy growth.

This series has been physically and emotionally taxing for me to produce. After 3-4 hours of photographing in the smoke and fire, I am greatly fatigued and drained. I wear special clothing because the smoke saturates everything. It often takes months for my camera equipment to be smoke free. While I am photographing, I always dedicate the work to my sister. It has been a blessing to have this project to focus on while my sister is simultaneously going through her chemotherapy.

MT ~ Reading your statement about ‘Burning’ on your website, "While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed prairie burns, _I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of a single moment _when life and death do not seem opposed to each other, _but are parts of a single process to be accepted as a whole" you seemed to express part of your own grasp about ‘life’ through this series. Would you tell us more about what you have realized about life while you’ve been working on this series?

JFA ~ I have spent much of my photography career wondering about the larger questions of did we all come into being, how do we leave this world and what is the meaning of life. I have used the camera as a tool to try to address these issues. By drawing on my life experiences that includes raising a family, extensive travel and having a clinical social work practice, I am able to come to a better understanding of the life/death question. You can't have one without the other, just like you need to the dark to understand the light. If there were no darkness, light would not exist.

Death is one of the great mysteries that face us all. I do not think one can really live fully without embracing death and dying. By observing the natural world I am able to see the cycle of life more clearly and am attracted to images that reference both life and death in one image.

MT ~ Tell us how you first began working on ‘Katrina’ series. What motivated you to go to Katrina? Looking at the gruesome scenes of Katrina, I would say I could sense part of your feeling while shooting these scenes. Tell us more how you felt while working on this series.

JFA~ Like all who watched the tragedy of human suffering unfold for days on end following Hurricane Katrina, I felt a profound sense of helplessness. This feeling led me to volunteer my skills as a clinical social worker. I had no idea how my expertise would be used. All I knew is that I would be on a team of sixteen mental health professionals from across the nation.

I was assigned to a program called “Look and Leave” organized by the City of New Orleans. The program was designed to provide the evacuated residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, then scattered over forty-eight states, with an opportunity to return and view their homes for the first time since they fled the storm.

By the end of my first day serving on the “Look and Leave” program and viewing the remains of the devastated community, I felt physically ill. Following three days and seven bus trips, I had an unrelenting “Katrina cough” along with a pounding headache. The physical and emotional fatigue was so pervasive that I had to leave the site. This was a turning point for me. Within an hour of returning to the hotel room, something within me shifted and I knew I needed to do more . . . . I decided to photograph what I was seeing, with the hope of helping in a more concrete way by giving others visual access to my experiences.

MT~ Did you intend to deliver any message to the audiences through your work of Katrina? If yes, what was it?

JFA ~ On the last night of my first trip to New Orleans, there was discussion with members of the relief team about how we might be ambassadors for the people we served by keeping their stories alive and their needs in focus.

Our natural instinct is to try to generalize any experience. To do so about my post-Katrina experience would be unfair to us all. During the time I spent in the Lower Ninth Ward, I encountered feelings of frustration, anger, fear, helplessness, shock, despair, hope, optimism and love, both my own and those of the residents. The best and worst of humankind were revealed, as it often is in such extreme situations. I saw people looking to profit from the misfortunes of others and people who showed boundless generosity toward complete strangers.

I was privileged to be with families at an intimate and critical time, a time when daily concerns receded and what was most vital rose to the top. I learned so much from the people I worked with. Their strong sense of faith sustained many. But, most importantly I learned that what is essential in life is not where we live, where we work, what we own, or how much money we make, but how well we love and treat one another.

MT ~ Since you have worked as a social worker for more than 35 years, you must’ve engaged a lot with people and I think most of your work subjects are reflecting stories related people, human beings. However, it is interesting that in most of your works, figures are excluded but still show the trace of people’s lives. What do you think? What did you intend from not showing figures on your works?

JFA ~ Much of my early work from Mexico included street photography. There was a time when I was comfortable with shooting people whom I did not know. Then I became more self conscious about it. I guess you might say I became more shy. I am no longer comfortable taking people's photographs without their permission. In order to do a really in depth project with people, you need to spend a lot of time with them. The commitment is intense. I did do that with a woman who was undergoing breast cancer. In the end she felt the photographs were too revealing and did not want them exhibited. The photographs are really beautiful but will probably never be seen. Maybe that has something to do with it...It really takes a toll on me to dive deep into other peoples lives.

MT ~ Your first and only book ‘Look and Leave’ has achieved a lot of attention from American media. What kinds of works are included in this book? Please introduce about your book to our readers in Korea.

JFA ~ The photographs in this book were taken at time when I was in deep mourning for the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and for our nation. I felt like a walking container for all the grief and sorrow that I absorbed while trying to support the residents as they returned to their homes. It is through this “lens” that the images were made. One question that has often been asked of me is, “Why are there no people in the photographs?” As a social worker, I felt it would be unethical to intrude on the personal lives of the families as they were trying to cope with their losses. When I did decide to photograph, it was with the conscious decision to do it before or after I reported to the “Look and Leave” site, thus avoiding any ambiguity between my professional roles as a clinical social worker and a photographer. I discovered that the potency of these photographs is due, in part, to the merging of the two professions at the moment the shutter was released.

MT ~ Mourning Light, Chiapas, and the first part of Mexico series look like you photographed out of framed photographs. Please explain about work process of these series and the reason why you have chose this manner of shooting photographs. What kind of effect did you seek?

JFA ~ I have always been interested in mixed media as a means of creating more luminosity, mystery and surface in the photograph. I applied beeswax on the surface of the Mourning Light photographs as a way of creating this effect.

The Chiapas series was created as a response to having visited the San Juan Chamula Church, just outside of San Cristobal, Mexico. I was not allowed to photograph inside the church but made images of the exterior and the surrounding areas. When I came home and began editing the work, I realized that I could scan objects that I had collected from various trips to Mexico and combine them with the images. This is what I did with this body of work. It all just came together with little thought. One of those wonderful moments that rarely happens! Adding the bees wax was another way of enhancing the mystery and giving the work more depth.

In my newest work from Mexico I am transferring xerox color copies onto a gold leaf prepared wooden panel and then pouring resin over the image. It becomes much less photographic and more about texture and light. The luminosity of the work is extraordinary and by doing the transfer, I loose some of the detail of the image. The viewer is forced to fill in the missing pieces or, even better, spend more time in wonder.

MT ~ ‘Visitation’ series look different from your other work series. This series seem the only one that you had set the stage and directed the scene with a garment while other series are not. What are you trying to talk through ‘Visitation’ series?

JFA ~ This work was inspired by a dream and a painting that referenced flying. This work addresses the non material, spiritual world; what we don't know but what could be.

I have always loved fabric and was a quilter for years before I became a photographer. I live on the shores of Lake Michigan and would always wait for the perfect weather conditions to shoot this work. The wind, the light and the cloud cover needed to be just right for it to work. For 2 years I would carry a 15" x 15" piece of fabric with me. Many, many images were taken but only a few worked artistically.

MT ~ I would say many of your works are close to documentary or topographic works except ‘Visitation’ (it is close to conceptual work to me). How would you categorize your works?

JFA ~ I think it is difficult to categorize my work as I am constantly changing and evolving. My photographic images reflect my curiosity about life and there is a freedom I feel with the photography in that there is no one I need to please, but myself.
It has always been "off limits" to others in that I shy away from commissions or commercial work. I am not interested in "branding" or having a specific style. I am only interested in giving expression to my inner voice.

MT ~ What are the most important sources for you to get inspirations for your works?

JFA ~ I think the combination of my life experiences and my observations on the bigger questions of life have been the driving force behind much of what I photograph. There is a collective unconscious that we all tap into. It doesn't really matter what country you live in, what race you are or what language you speak. We are all made from the same cloth and want similar things from our life. We are all born and we all die and in between we hopefully find love and meaningful work. I love the quote from Joseph Campbell..."The privilege of a lifetime is becoming more of who you are." I am still working on this.

MT ~ Tell us more about your technical know-how. What kind of camera do you use? Are these all film works or digital? Do you print by yourself?

JFA ~ I started the with 35 mm camera then moved to a hasselblad medium format camera for years. I had a darkroom in the basement of my house and I would do all my own printing. Then came Katrina. I had not planned on doing any serious shooting when I went there and only brought my Canon Rebel XT. Prior to that I had never worked digitally. I now use a Canon 5D and do all my own printing on the Epson 4800. I have also used the holga camera, which I adore.

MT ~ You are working in both black and white and color. How do you determine to work either color or B&W on each subject? What kind of effect do you purpose by choosing one?

JFA ~ I had only worked with b/w film up until Katrina when I shifted to color. I really like both and I think the project dictates the direction I go in. I just want to create the strongest image possible.

MT ~ What are you currently working? Have you started any new work series? What’s your plan?

JFA ~ I have been deeply disturbed by the oil spill that just happened in the Gulf of Mexico. I have been reading about the devastation to so many life forms. I am working on a conceptual body of work that will address the vulnerability to human life that is caused by risky drilling practices and speak to the broader issues of protecting our earth. There has been so much finger pointing but really, we are all responsible and we all need to find a solution not just to this spill but to all environmentally compromising practices worldwide. Probably by the time this article goes to print, the work will be completed.

I will also continue working on The Burn, which is an ongoing project.

MT~ What’s your goal being as a photographer?

JFA ~ Interesting question. I really don't have any goals as a photographer per say. I am interested in making the world a better place and have found the camera to be a good tool for that. I will continue to address social and spiritual concerns as they arise. I am also really enjoying mentoring other photographers. I have a monthly critique group in which I am able to help others realize their own vision. It is really fulfilling to be part of other people's growth and development.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Turning 90 and the Annual Perseid Meteor Shower

I am just coming off of a birthday celebration extravaganza for my mother, who just turned 90 years old, joining my father of 90. Both my parents are still seizing life with incredible enthusiasm and energy. Their "dance card" is full as they both lead vibrant, active lives. What I know to be true is that their youthful attitude is really about living life to the fullest. They are constantly expanding, not shrinking from life, providing wonderful role models for all of us.

photo by Emily Heller Photography

My brother made a toast to my Mother that I would like to share...
"When I told people I was coming to Chicago for my mothers 90th and that both my parents were alive at 90 and still active, everyone, without exception, said “you are so lucky.” Yes we’re so lucky. I cannot think of another word for it. We are so fortunate that here I am the youngest of 4 children and at 57 to have our parents in our world and in our lives. It feels like a blessing that is beyond compare. It is truly priceless and it is something to know one’s blessings. And I think knowing one’s blessing has been a true gift and legacy from Mom. Although she has lived with inarguably tremendous abundance, there has never been a moment that she seems to have taken it for granted. She has always been deeply, deeply appreciative and has never let a day go by where she didn’t say to herself and everyone else how luck we are. And I feel that deeply tonight. This is what you wish for. This is the good stuff. This is what matters. Without this, the rest of it just doesn’t matter very much. To be here tonight is a blessing beyond measure. It feels tremendously abundant and we appreciate it... and we appreciate Mom on her birthday and all that she has given us and that she is still giving to us today."

My Mother's birthday ALWAYS falls during the annual Perseid Meteor Shower on August 11th and 12th. It is an amazing late summer night display of awe and wonder...and a reminder of how the world continues to work in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


This post appeared on ELLE Magazine's Blog last week. It was so nice to have someone actually "get" what I was trying to do. Thank you ELLE Magazine writer Kate Siegel!

AUGUST 03, 2010
Jane Fulton Alt's 'Crude Awakening'

Last month, Jane Fulton Alt posted her latest photographic series, Crude Awakening. The images, clearly meant to draw attention to the Gulf oil spill, are impossible to ignore.

After seeing the massive fire consume the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig, she, like everyone else, was inspired to help, but her contribution took a different path.

This series, unlike the majority of the commentary on the spill, doesn’t unequivocally blame BP. The provocative images are certainly critical of the company, but the oil coating the bodies of Fulton Alt’s subjects seems to imply something more. Could the artist be suggesting that, on some level, we're all responsible for the spill? Do we all have ‘oil on our hands’? If we weren't so dependent on the oil, would this have happened in the first place?

Without contributing millions of dollars, or even making her way down to the Gulf, she's found a way to reach everyone, and make any sane person question their environmental stance. As BP starts their Static Kill operation, a new CEO takes over the company, and more studies reveal the extent of the spill's damage, the more reminders of its consequences the better— especially if those reminders are stellar photographs.


A few other links on the internet the past few weeks were
The Jerusalem Post
HDhottdog Magazine, pgs 4-5
Tree Hugger Slide Show
Esquire in Russia, September Issue

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Oil Spill Epidemic?

I received an email about the oil spill in China. The link to the BBC article is HERE.

The Gulf of Mexico; Kalamazoo River, Michigan and Dalian, China...all within a few months. What is going on? These eruptions feel apocalyptic, especially after reading about the heroic clean up efforts in China.

Greenpeace International listed 10 simple ways to use less oil...
1. Carpool, cycle or use public transport to go to work.
2. Choose, when possible, products packaged without plastic and recycle or re-use containers.
3. Buy organic fruits and vegetables (fertilisers and pesticides are based on oil more often than not).
4. Buy beauty products (shampoo, soap, make-up) based on natural ingredients, not oil.
5. Choose when possible locally produced products (less transport involved).
6. Buy clothes made out of organic cotton or hemp - not from oil derivatives.
7. Use non-disposable items in picnics and summer festivals.
8. Quit bottled water.
9. Fly less.
10. Demand that your government encourage renewable energy instead of subsidizing oil."