KRISTEN JONES

Interview by Nikki Anderson

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Nikki Anderson: How important was using a square format camera to the project? What made you decide to use it?

Kristen Jones: I decided to use the square because it was something completely different. I had never worked with an SLR or a medium format camera before, and I wanted to see what it could do for my work. I collect manual cameras for this very reason, and am very interested in the ways that the camera can bring new things to my style and methods, and how it could inspire me to think in different ways.

NK: There is something dream-like in many of these photos, something ordinary coupled with something odd or fantastical. Where did your project begin and how did it evolve? Did you begin with the idea of photographing in this way?

 KJ: My project began with an assignment that Sharon gave us, to create a mystery narrative. While thinking about this project, I chose not to actively avoid anything heavy-handed and use the word “mysterious” as opposed to “mystery” as inspiration. I thought about using light, shadow, and obscured figures to create the effect of mystery. This is the point from which a lot of my earlier photographs evolved. I then began to use props in some of the portraits I was taking, encouraging my subject to play with the props, and more often, posing them with the props. When creating projects, I operate very intuitively, so it’s a little difficult to explain my rationale other than providing a time line.

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NA: The two portraits where we can’t see the woman’s face seem vaguely surreal, even reminiscent of a Magritte painting. Can you identify any influences on these photographs in particular, or any photographers/art movements that you are most inspired by or interested in?

KJ: Honestly, I can’t think of any specific influences. I’m definitely a fan of surrealism generally speaking, especially the aesthetic that I see in the paintings. However, I also consider myself to have only a rudimentary knowledge of the movement and the artists. I think that I’m influenced by pretty much any art I see and find interesting—in any way from simply being inexplicably yet aesthetically pleasing or pleasing in a deeply conceptual way. I’d be hard-pressed to name specific artists or movements that I find inspirational in a way that can be seen in my photographs, but a few of my favorite photographers include Hanna Liden, Diane Arbus, and Rineke Djikstra.

NA: Do these photographs have titles? If they don’t, could you come up with titles for them, or is there a reason they shouldn’t be titled?

KJ: I don’t think I’ve ever titled a photograph of mine. I don’t particularly feel that it’s necessary for me; I want the photograph to speak for itself to the viewer, and for me a title inserts too much of myself and my opinion into the work. I want the image, not me, to speak to the viewer.

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NA: To what extent are these photographs choreographed/directed? Were all of them composed and staged by you? How did you conceive the ideas for these photographs?

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KJ: I’d say a good portion of the photographs are composed in some way by me. I like to have a mix between my personality and the personality of the subject appear in the photograph. I want to pose them and allow my vision to come to life; I want them to edit my pose and give it their own flavor; I want to catch them in the moments between poses when they are unaware; I want to allow them to pose themselves and allow their agency to have a place in my work. I usually begin a shoot with a very clear idea of what I want and posing my subject accordingly, and let things evolve as organically as they can.  My ideas for the photographs sometimes come from inspiration from the subject themselves, objects that we bring into the photograph, and/or the way that they interact with the space. These can all be thoroughly thought out or come about organically, but I usually come with only a few ideas prepared and let things evolve from there.

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NA: The photographs are primarily portraits, even when there is a face obscured, but you’ve also included a photograph of a toy horse seen through a window, which seems whimsical and light, sort of sweet and creepy at the same time. What is its relationship to the other photographs, if any? And what is the relationship between the more straightforward portraits and the surreal portraits?

 KJ: There really isn’t any direct relationship between the portraits and the still life or landscape-type photographs that I take. I approach them in such different ways that the connection usually comes after the fact, as in finding interesting and unexpected relationships through the presentation of the photographs. I approach portraiture from a more controlled perspective, whereas the other photographs are more about things that I find interesting while exploring or simply walking around. I still wouldn’t consider my portraiture particularly controlled, though.

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I think that the more surreal portraits and the more straightforward portraits speak to what I was thinking about at the outset of this project– the various ways that people can be represented through portraiture. I try to find innovative and interesting ways to accomplish this, while still occasionally giving a nod to more conventional portraiture. I also tried to explore the relationship of part to whole over the course of this year in portraits; parts of people, parts of spaces and how they can represent the whole person or space.

NA: Eyes, covered by hands, a white bag, a red blanket, averted from the photographer, and once, staring straight in to the camera, though out of focus, seem to be an important element in each of these compositions. Is the role of looking, or not looking, something you thought about in taking these photographs?

KJ: I suppose it is something that I thought about, though not quite directly. For some reason, it feels more intimate and more natural if the person is not staring directly into the camera. I am certainly not completely against direct eye contact, and some of the photographs that I haven’t included here demonstrate that, but I do tend to photograph and choose to print photographs that capture moments in which the person seems to be a bit more unaware of the presence of the camera.

NA: What lessons have you taken away from this photography project?

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KJ: I’ve learned to trust my intuition and not try to conceptualize when it doesn’t feel natural. That’s just the way that I operate, I’ve come to see. I feel as though I’ve found a good balance between intuition and conceptualizing that I feel comfortable with, and that gives my work more depth than I previously had.

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