Rfotofolio is sharing our interview with Jill Enfield from 2014. She is the author of Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes. We are pleased to have Jill as our juror for the Denis Roussel Award.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I have lived in New York City for 30+ years, doing commercial work here and there, but mostly teaching. I am very lucky to have a darkroom in my apartment and still actively use it. Most of my work has involved some kind of alternative process, most recently wet plate collodion.
How did you get started photography?
My Dad, Grandfather and Uncle moved to Miami Beach in 1939 and opened up the first camera store. By the time my siblings and I came along in the 50’s there were Polaroid cameras and things like “The Swinger” made for kids. We always had cameras around. It was always just what we did and I did not think about doing photography full-time until I was in college. I went on to Europe with my sister and a few friends and all I wanted to do was capture everything we saw on film. It was very exciting for me, it woke me up and I became very passionate about photography and have not lost the passion since then.
Did your family and childhood affect your decision to become an artist?
My family had something to do with my comfort level around cameras for sure, (see the answer above). But, as far as becoming an artist, no. It was something that my family took seriously. An artist was not considered something that anyone “becomes”. I feel lucky that I figured out how to do it.
Which photographers and other artist work do admire?
That is a really hard. I admire so many! Let’s see, Sarah Moon, Deborah Turbeville, Imogen Cunningham, Bea Nettles, Joan Lyons, Irving Penn, and of course the 3 big guys: Weston, Steichen and Steiglitz. Josef Sudek is one of my favorites as well, and then painters such as Andrew Wyeth, and sculptures such as Brancussi. That might be enough for now, but I know I could fill up this page. I have a crazy large book collection and I love looking through work and going to museums, so my list is long.
And what about their work inspires you?
It can be anything, the way they compose, print, the feeling that I get when I look at an image. Seeing great work always inspires me and there is a lot out there.
In your mind what makes a great photograph?
A great photograph is one I can get lost in when I am looking at it. One that I want to know more about and keep going back to it so that I can, in fact, learn more.
How do you hope your art contributes?
With most of my work, I hope that it can affect people the way I mentioned a great photograph affects me (what makes a great photo). With my series called “The New Americans”, I hope it will help in keeping the importance of immigration alive. I am sentimental and believe borders should not exist. Immigrants have helped make this country, all countries, what they are today, and not letting people follow their dreams and working hard anywhere in the world they wish to live is not how this country was founded.
How did you come to the choice of using non traditional methods in your photography.
I started using infrared film early on in my photography, and that started me on wanting to keep doing some kind of alternative process. The infrared film was more dreamlike to me than regular black and white film. It had more to do with how I saw the images in my head.
Do you have a favorite process?
I have been using wet plate collodion for the past few years, and I love it. I also like making inkjet prints and then put a process on top.
What challenges do you face as a photographer?
I don’t think there are enough hours in a day. I wish I did not need to sleep so much. I get involved with something and then have to stop and eat or rest, and It breaks up my day. There is also so much that has to be done to have a business that I don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the darkroom or shooting. I would rather not do the everyday work that needs to be done, but there is no choice in the matter.
How do you over come a creative block?
When I have ideas, I write them down in little moleskin books, so that when I have a block I go back and look through the books and see if I can get inspired. Otherwise, I walk around with a little camera or sometimes even just my iPhone and see if I can get excited that way. Luckily, the blocks usually don’t last too long.
What subjects were you first drawn to?
I shot mostly environmental architecture and landscapes for years. When I had children, I added family pictures to the mix and now I am shooting portraits a lot, but I have never stopped shooting architecture and landscapes.
And how to you go about planning a shoot?
If I am photographing with film or digital, there is no planning. I walk around and photograph as I see things that interest me. If it is a portrait shoot, then I have to arrange the time and the place. I have a list in my computer that I print out and check off to make sure I don’t forget anything. Collodion is very “stuff” heavy so it is very important to be prepared and efficient so that I have everything with me.
Would you tell us about your workspace?
I live in NYC, so that should tell you immediately that it is small, but very comfortable. We have combined 3 small apartments so I made one of the kitchens into my darkroom and the entrance is where my desk is with my computer and scanner. The best part is that I have a window in the darkroom. It does not have the best view, but it let’s in great light and I put rubilith on it so it is like a giant safe light. When I do film, I have a black out curtain that I can pull down. One side of the darkroom is a large sink and the other is the dry side with 2 enlargers. I have cabinets filled with chemicals, a drying rack and a UV box for exposing my alternative process prints. (I don’t have an outdoor area for exposing by the sun, so I need the UV box). I also have a storage area that has a lot of prints, a large closet for my lights and more prints and a lot of file cabinets for negatives and glass plates. My scanner is on wheels so that I can wheel it into a corner when I am not using it, and I have bookshelves filled to capacity with books.
How important is it to your art form to have creative community?
It is not important for my art form, but it is important for my head. I love being around creative people and feel like I have great friends that have the same interests that I do. But for working, I like to be alone. My favorite time is being alone in my darkroom. I don’t usually show people what I am working on until I am sure I am happy with it and I don’t enjoy being critiqued until I am ready.
Not only are you a gifted photographer, and writer, you are an educator, would you tell us about why you teach ?
First of all, THANK YOU! I love photography everything about it. I am like a kid in a candy store. As soon as I start to see the image come up, I get excited. It is still like magic to me all the time. I feel very lucky that I can do what I love everyday. And I think that is what I love about teaching. To see the excitement in a students face when they are learning a new process, or seeing the image come up in the developer. It is something that I never get sick of.
The writing is different. Like a lot of artists, I am dyslexic. I have to take notes so that I can follow instructions. As a teacher, I noticed how many students have not learned how to take notes, so I started to hand out copies of my notes and many students said they were easier to follow than the instructions that were in books or the instructions that came with chemical kits we used. It was my husband that noticed that the amount of paper I was giving to my students was larger than some of the books and suggested that maybe I should do a book. My goal was to write instructions that anyone could follow, from a novice to a professional and not feel that any of the processes were too complicated.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
I love to take simple spaces and make them into something special, so I guess that is how I see the world. I walk around the city a lot and as I walk, I am always looking around. I have lived here over 30 years and can still find new and interesting areas to see.
Thank you Jill for sharing your art.
To learn more about Jill Enfield please visit her site. Jill Enfield
She is the author of Jill Enfield’s Guide to Photographic Alternative Processes.