Jill Frank, who had a great show at GOLDEN just about a year ago, and now has a 12×12 up at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, will be giving an artist talk at the MCA this coming Tuesday, August 25th at 630pm. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, even though apparently she was in the middle of the woods.
What sports are you bad at playing?
All sports that require coordination. I like jogging because less can go wrong. However, I still run into tree branches and trip over potholes on a regular basis.
What was the first photograph that you ever took?
I remember taking a picture of this crawdad in my backyard, my friend was trying to hold it still for me and I was using a Polaroid camera.
Can you describe the evolution of your work?
I am interested in aligning images with actual experiences. I started with a project on my family, where we reenacted all of our most important memories for the camera, in a sense creating a more accurate family album. This included awkward, humiliating, embarrassing moments rather than the usual portraits. I moved from that project into photographing other people’s undocumented experiences- (Psychodrama)- which involved advertising my project and looking for participants willing to share. I ended up with some really interesting people, and I learned a lot about how to document these incidents. I think the images became more about documenting a performance than making a pristine singular image of an event. Recently, I have been working less with individuals and more with groups of people and larger histories. I am really excited about this newer direction because it involves making alternate versions of culturally accepted images. I am interested in what seems to be missing from these iconic images: the awkwardness, the anxiety, the embarrassment of being human. I have included two of these newer works in the 12×12. One is Mother and Child #1, where the baby is not in a peaceful state; rather, it is exhibiting signs of anxiety at an early age.
What is the significance of creating images from your own memories, and how does this translate to creating images from collective memory (historical, etc)?
I think that images often serve as anchors for our experiences. It is really interesting to think about whether we or not we value the experience more or less if there is some visual document to serve as evidence. I want to facilitate a conversation with this project. As for the way it has moved from individual to more collective experiences, I think that historical events and collective memories can be just as subjective as our own personal memories. For me, this project questions the objectivity of the “original” image, and the authors and artists who made them. I also like to find room for my own spiritual curiosity inside the religious iconography. I am making these images work for me.
How did the transition in your work from creating images from personal narratives to historical, literary and biblical narratives happen?
I put the word out that I was looking for participants for the personal narratives, and I ran into several groups of people who were well-schooled in different religious histories. It was a very natural transition in which I learned a lot from the participants. I specifically enjoyed working with a group of students from Wheaton, Illinois who were extremely open to be a part of whatever strange idea I had.
Do you look at your work as documentation of performances or events, or more
as constructed portraits?
Both. I started out with very constructed portraits of the participants and moved into a looser, more documentary approach. Now I think of the performance as the most interesting aspect – the photograph as a document of the reenactment or the reinterpretation.
How has collaborating changed your work?
I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their interests and life experiences, so collaboration is very rewarding. I still make all of the photographs myself, but I have considered different approaches to this as well. Generally speaking, I can’t imagine making images based only on my own experiences and interpretations; I am not that interesting! I think the most amazing part of the collaboration is the learning aspect.
What do you see as the failures and successes of photographic representation?
Well, I believe failure and success is relative to our expectations of the medium. The photographic image is the form of visual representation that most closely mimics the human experience, and it is through existing images that we gain an understanding of what may be worthy of representation. If there are pivotal moments in a person’s life that go undocumented, are documented inaccurately, or events of historic consequence that are not photographed – it could be perceived as a failure.
Photography succeeds at specificity: things that our eyes are incapable of processing, a camera can render in permanent painstaking detail. I think this is a question of subjectivity- one person’s idea of a successful photograph may not speak to another person’s idea of that same moment in time. These conversations about the medium make you consider the larger questions surrounding the production of images.
Jill’s work will be up as part of the UBS 12×12 New Artists/New Work program until the end of August.