Jessica Somers was a 2022 Denis Roussel Award Work of Merit selection by Christopher James.
“Your project, My Trinity IS My Fortress, is simply exquisite, conceptually flawless in its simple message of integrating a creature, and by association, the most elemental nature (Denis Roussel would certainly approve) in collaboration with your studio practice. Your writing is humble, indicating that you, your husband and Grover have become a pack where each is free to lead. Your image Gestation, is sneaky and perfect … making no sense and perfect sense within the same moment. The shadows are remarkable and so abstracted by the physics of making a photograph from a set perspective. I have come back to this many times over the past week. Since you are bound to the tableau, have you considered amping up the surrealism by using wet collodion, perhaps on black glass, so that the elegance of the UV illumination is even more pronounced? If you decide to do this, I would recommend mixing new and old prepared collodion in a 50-50% to open your shadows and give softness to your highlights. This is beautiful work.” Christopher James
Would you please tell us about yourself?
I am a photographer living in Connecticut. My creative practice centers on using photography to inspect deeply seated desires, fears, and challenges. I use self-portraiture, visual metaphor, and photographic process to examine the intersection of my life and the circumstances that overlap with and sometimes run counter to my expectations.
Who has had an influence on your creative process?
I take my inspiration from so many places. Edward Weston was my first major influence. I love how he used elements that are inherently photographic such as tonal gradations, indirect light, and a sharp lens to reveal the intricacies of common objects and places. The hours I spent consuming Weston’s photos and emulating his style in my early years as a photographer is one of the ways I learned to use photographic materials to visually communicate my thoughts.
I look to many artists outside of photography as well. I love the novelist John Steinbeck and the way he expressed fundamental human need in beautifully worded phrases. The poems of Emily Dickinson remind me that even in dark moments it is the longing for something more than what you’ve been handed that can both save and destroy you. The words of Henry David Thoreau remind me to slow down and see all that there is right in front of me.
Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has inspired you.
Polly Chandler’s photograph, “The House Where Nobody Lives” from her series, “You Build It Up, You Wreck It Down” is exquisite. It makes me think of how the definition of home dwells inside of us, it is something we can build and shape to suit our desires, it is also something we can crush or squander if we’re not careful. The way she plays with the shape of the house and the shadow of the person, the way these shapes mirror each other, the darkness, and the timelessness are all things I love about this piece.
Is there an image that you wish you would have taken and can you still see it?
Since most of my photographs are staged I usually just create or recreate the images I want to take. There is one photo I just added to my series, “My Trinity is a Fortress” that was a spur-of-the-moment photo that was not staged. It’s one I wished I had thought to stage. I took it with my camera phone of my husband and my dog on an average day at home. It fits in with the concept of the series perfectly but because it’s a smartphone photo the quality is not the same as the other work in the series. It was too perfect and organic a scene to recreate so, I added the original image to the portfolio anyway, lower resolution and all.
How do you work through times when nothing seems to work?
I usually just wait things out, I push forward, sketching new ideas for photos and making work until things start to feel right. Something I tell my students is, you have to get the bad work out of the way so you can start making the good stuff. When things aren’t working for me I try to remember my own advice, and just keep making, even if everything seems “bad” because soon it will be out of the way and the good stuff can be made.
What part of image-making do you find the most rewarding?
During the editing and printing when a piece starts to reach its final form. Since much of my work is about the marriage of concept, imagery, and process, it’s during the processing of the image that the emotions behind a piece are revealed. Usually, when an image comes out of the toner or other chemical bath and I’ve finally settled on the perfect combination of imagery and process, I get that inner flutter that lets me know the photo is perfect, it’s done… that’s my favorite part.
Please tell us about your process and the work you submitted to the Denis Roussel Award.
My Trinity is a Fortress, is an ode to my unconventional family. Photographic tableaus depict a complex union between human and animal. The portfolio considers the notion that family can take many forms and is not limited to the archetypal portrayal of the American family.
It is understood that dogs, like their wild ancestor, the wolf, gather in packs. These packs consist of family groupings including parents and generations of offspring. One of the characteristics that separate dogs from wolves is dogs’ ability to bond and communicate with humans. Dogs accept humans as part of their pack.
In the summer of 2014, I cradled a puppy named Grover in my arms. My husband and I embarked on a 12-hour ride home with our new baby. We became an instant family on that ride. Grover was the final piece in the puzzle of all-the-things-I-knew-I-wanted. Love and family take many forms. There is an ideal portrayal of what the American family is. My family is not that. Still, I find all the joys, vulnerabilities, and daily routines that come with building a conventional family also exist in my little trio of eight legs. I was once alone listening for my small voice amidst the chatter of a larger world. Now I belong to a pack, the big voice in my little world.
The images in this series are made by contact printing digital negatives to silver gelatin paper which is then split-toned using sepia and iron-based toners.
What tools have you found essential in the making of your work?
Due to how I make my photographs and the nature of the photo processes I use, there is a digital element in the creation of my otherwise analog prints. I rely on a great inkjet printer (I use an Epson P800) which allows me to make digital negatives with the appropriate range of tones and clarity to create a beautiful final print. In addition to photo hardware, the tool I use the most is introspection. My work is about my personal life so constantly evaluating my feelings, the good and the bad, and coming up with the visual equivalents for those feelings is crucial in creating the photographs.
Is there something in photography that you would like to try in the future?
I often think about how my photos would look if they were very short movies, (3 seconds or so) with just enough movement to hint at the action while still leaving things open-ended for the viewer. That could be something I try in the future.
How does your art affect the way you see the world?
My photography constantly forces me to think of creative ways to express emotion. It makes me look at what obstacles I face in my personal life and then step back and consider those obstacles on a universal scale. Since I often use my photographs to consider expectations both personal and societal, I find myself looking at how I participate in and perpetuate unrealistic or limiting expectations and make adjustments to my behavior when I find my actions do not match my ideals. In this way, my photography leads me to understand the world around me better and to try to do better for myself and for others.
To learn more about the work of Jessica Somers please visit her site by clicking on her name.