Friday, February 15, 2013

Things I Love....

"What do I love? What inspires me?"
This is the theme for the February Photo Challenge. The single most important reason that I became inspired to take photographs was to document my children's lives. That said, over the past year, I've become very interested in telling stories and making very personal statements in my photographic work.

So, beyond my family and friends, what motivates me to take a photo? Easy, the desire to make art. For this challenge, I wanted to incorporate many of the things that move and inspire me into one image.

• I was a painter and love the process of physical creation - particularly mixed media and collage.
• I love modern art.
• I love iconography.
• I love to study the history of Western religion.
• I love symbols.
• I am drawn to stories of justice and truth.
• I love detail, pattern, and texture.

But most of all, I wanted to push myself to try something completely different so that I did not have a set process or technique to keep it raw and fresh for myself. I wanted to discover and allow myself to be vulnerable and even uncomfortable.

I was a painting major in college and I've always been deeply inspired by the work of painters. My first adolescent loves were the Impressionists, followed by the Abstract Expressionists, then the Post-Modernists.... and so on. I was pretty much obsessed with art created after WW2. In college, I began to study art history more thoroughly and came to appreciate art from all periods of human expression. If you walk thru my house, you will see a lot of icon painting reproductions. I appreciate all the little details and symbols and love how the paintings are aging - I adore the cracks, the worn areas, the things that have just plain fallen off and the way these artistic statements have aged adds an additional dimension to their beauty for me. I love the concept of incorporating symbols into an image that would communicate additional messages to the viewer. I also love the way these images seem to hold a certain magic. I can't explain it, but these objects seem like they hold clues and I am obsessed with wishing I could decipher them and access a little of their magic.

One of my favorite things about modern art is that there are no prescribed rules. I hate rules. I loved how painters would simply add things into their work - from Albert Pinkham Ryder incorporating his used tobacco juice in his paint mixtures, or Kurt Schwitters' "Degenerate Art": Merz, which conjured up its own magic from the rejected, the discarded and the useless*, or Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, which in Dadaism, translated into a toilet. In highschool, I remember reading about Julian Schnabel and how he was creating these breathtaking works of modern art by smashing plates and then affixing them to canvas and painting on them in a way reminiscent of mosaics. I loved this idea and became a passionate admirer of his work. 

In my mind, photographic techniques, processing, wardrobe, model, lighting, etc. is very important but it only goes so far. If you don't find a way to find emotion the work stays flat on the surface. I find inspirational depth from listening to people's stories. 
One day I was having a very light discussion on the theology of Christianity with a friend and referenced Jesus' friendship with Mary Magdelene, the prostitute. I didn't say anything at the time, wanting to research it more thoroughly, but I recalled reading that depiction was not accurate. So, I went to Wikipedia. The more I read, the more outraged I became on her behalf. She was utterly maligned. The New Testament only describes  Mary Magdalene's friendship and service to Jesus in the most respectful tones and in fact, was known as the "the apostle to the apostles". Yet inexplicably, in the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great decides to cast her as a prostitute in a sermon. And the rest is history.

Now, I've thought a lot about this slander. You could argue that it was done for a variety of reasons. Clearly, when you re-interpret someone who in life was one of Jesus' closest disciples, one of two to not flee his side as he died, the first one Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, as a whore, you severely undercut her life's work. It's almost like a political campaign where no one is talking about ideas and platforms anymore because a scandal is announced. It could be argued that Mary's relationship with Jesus made the 6th Century political leaders very uncomfortable in their patriarchal society and she needed to be knocked down a notch. In a less sinister light, it could also be argued that it makes for a really great metaphor for one of the most important tenets of Christianity, the concept that all are welcome in the religion, despite their former "sins" and that they can essentially be "reborn" and reclaim a new life with Christ. The iconographic symbols traditionally depicted in Mary Magdalene's iconography are eggs. Perfect for rebirth. Fits well into the second narrative. But in her case, it's a gross exaggeration and I wanted to pay her my respects by creating a portrait inspired by her, where I smashed some plates and by gluing them back together, hope to recreate her narrative. Do my part in allowing her reputation to be reborn.

I'm not really attempting to make a religious statement by focusing on Mary Magdalene. Rather, I felt this story was very relevant today. In our current age of instant information, quick dissemination, and social media sharing, lies and misstatements are spread faster than ever before. And once the lies are out, it is incredibly hard for the retraction to ever catch up. If ever. So many urban myths, political lies, news reports, school rumors, etc., are tweeted, instagrammed, Facebooked, emailed, and then repeated without first going to the source or simply waiting to ensure that the background information has been fully vetted. And people get hurt by this. It reminds me of the proverb, "One must turn the tongue seven times in the mouth before speaking".

Thank you so much for listening to my ideas and viewing my work. I appreciate it. 

For those interested, this image was processed with textures "Lyrics" from Super Grunge Urban and Uneven" from Super Grunge Vintage.




  1. Oh my goodness Jessica, this blog post touched me so deeply. I love your interpretation of Mary Magdalene, and the art you created shows how deeply this meant to you. Thank you so much for sharing!!

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  3. Starting off my morning with these. Beautiful.

  4. Your words are incredible. You have so many facets of giftedness.

  5. Jessica, I really love what you have created with the image of Mary Magdalene; you have captured so much. I hesitate to ask, yet I am wondering if you would ever sell this piece or a create a print of it? If so, I would be so grateful to know. This is the most wonderful image I have ever seen of her, and I appreciate your reflection and creativity very much.