Jayna Conkey: States Project: Nevada
Jayna Conkey is an artist and educator based in Reno, Nevada. I am fascinated by her series entitled Withdrawn. While at her local library, Jayna opened a photography book to a page where an image was meticulously cut out from the page, revealing the text and image below through the cut out shape. Many would have passed over this mutilated page in disgust and rage. For Jayna, it became a catalyst that launched a unique photographic series, one that raises questions about censorship and voyeurism, and also broadens the definition of book arts in a completely unexpected way.
Jayna was born in Reno, Nevada. She works predominantly in the medium of photography. Her work has appeared in more than thirty group and solo exhibitions. She received her M.F.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1996, has taught at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art & Craft (both in Portland), and is currently a Professor of Photography and Graphic Communications at Western Nevada College.
One day in 1999, while examining photographic books in the Portland, Oregon public library, I turned a page of “The New Color Photography” by Sally Eauclaire. Where I should have seen a photo of a nude figure reclining on a bed, I saw instead something entirely unexpected. Someone had meticulously cut the nude figure out of the image with a sharp blade, leaving behind a “window” that revealed some of the text from the previous page. And written in red ink below the sabotaged image were the words: “can’t believe it!”
I found myself confronting the traces of two separate events – the alteration of the original image, and a commentary by a subsequent library patron. The meaning and the intent of the image had been diverted, and new relationships now emerged between the altered image and the text revealed through the window. I checked the book out of the library and launched a new photographic project, documenting mutilated books from libraries around the country.
As a researcher and an instructor, I had seen such mutilation of photography books many times before. I began to investigate the phenomenon, contacting librarians nationwide to determine how often such incisions are made, what types of books are most likely to be damaged, the costs incurred. I was also curious to know how librarians decide which books will be repaired, which replaced, and which discarded, what considerations are made for out-of-print books.
As an artist, I feel compelled to document these “withdrawn” images, which are the work of an invasive viewer overstepping accepted boundaries of reading and ownership. Their anonymous interventions have resulted in arresting images that literally embody the twin responses of censorship and voyeurism.
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