Photographers on Photographers: Ashley Kauschinger and Allison Jarek
This month, we feature our annual August project, Photographers on Photographers, where visual artists interview colleagues they admire. Thank you to all who have participated for their time, energies and for efforts. Today we are happy to share this interview with Ashley Kauschinger‘s interview with Allison Jarek. – Aline Smithson and Brennan Booker
Allison Jarek’s work is thoughtful and nuanced. It tends to blend traditional ideas of photography with an experimental twist that makes it all her own and adds new layers of meaning. Sometimes the work looks outward into the world, while other times it looks inward into the self. But it’s always interested in connections and relationships to what make us human. Our connection to nature, to our own minds, to our families, to our past…
Allison is also a deeply caring and empathic person who is always thinking of others. Impulses that lead her to co-found the photography non-profit, Illuminate Atlanta, that’s mission is to increase the accessibility of photographic education to under-served communities.
Let’s take a look at some of her work and hear from her about her working process and her non-profit.
Allison Jarek (b. 1989, Reno, NV) is an American photographer whose work explores themes such as man’s relationship with nature, female identity, and personal journeys. She received her MFA in Photography from Texas Woman’s University in the spring of 2015 and her BFA in Photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011. Her work has been shown nationally, at venues such as PhotoPlace Gallery, New Orleans Photo Alliance, the University of Central Florida, and Clemson University, and featured in publications such as SHOTS Magazine, The Hand magazine, and South x Southeast Photomagazine. She currently lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ashley Kauschinger is a visual artist that explores identity, social structures, and women’s voices. She received her BFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and her MFA from Texas Woman’s University. Her photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues such as the Light Factory and the Chiang Mai Art Museum. She has been published in Chinese Photography Magazine, PDN Photo Annual, and Lenscratch, among others. Her work is in the collections of Vanderbilt University and the Sir Elton John Collection.
Ashley is also the Founding Editor of Light Leaked, an online photography magazine that creates dialogue and community.
In the essay, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasized the importance of man’s relationship to the land. He stated that there is a common spirit that resides in and connects all living things, which he called the “Over-Soul.” The examination of this connection would lead to the essential truths of one’s existence. Hallowed Ground explores these transcendentalist themes, specifically the innate spirituality and purity within nature and man’s connection to it.
These images were photographed with 4×5 black and white film and painted digitally to illustrate the “Over-Soul” that connects man to the land. This process is also used to depict surreal, dream-like environments that emphasize the romantic and idealistic qualities of the landscape and question the audience’s perception of reality. Though this work reflects the artist’s personal beliefs regarding the importance and the sacred nature of the land, the ultimate purpose of these idealistic depictions is to encourage appreciation and respect for the earth and to provoke the audience to reflect on their own personal relationship with nature
Ashley Kauschinger: Tell us about your series, Hallowed Ground. How did it begin or grow out of your previous works, and where did the inspiration come from?
Allison Jarek: Hallowed Ground is in many ways is the culmination of a lot of conceptual and technical exploration. I had previously explored the theme of man’s role within nature extensively through other media like printmaking and artist books, while my photographic work consisted primarily of self-portraiture. As I continued with my self-portraiture, the environments they were photographed in, and my interactions with them, became more and more important. My series Provenance embraced this transition as the landscape became essential to the self-portrait. I began to explore my own significant and complex relationship with nature photographically, depicting the human figure merging with landscape and intrinsically connected to one another.
Landscape photography had always been very intimidating to me, but I had always aspired to it and it was the natural next step for my work. So I took a leap outside my comfort zone and began Hallowed Ground. The writings of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir have always been very influential for my work, but when I read the essay Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I felt that I had finally found the words to say what I had been trying to express for years. I began to use digital manipulation to represent and illustrate the “Over-Soul” that resides in and connects all living things, merging it with the landscape in a way that replicates things that can actually be found in nature; smoke, fog, dust, and water. This digital manipulation was also a natural progression from my previous bodies of work in which I physically manipulated the photographic negative, burning, scratching, and drawing directly onto it and interacting with the depicted scene.
AK: Hallowed Ground combines traditional landscape photographed with 4×5 black and white film with digital manipulation. What are your thoughts on working in this hybrid process and how do you feel it conceptually contributes to the work?
AJ: Shooting with a 4×5 camera forced me to slow down and spend time in the landscape I was photographing. Some of the locations in Hallowed Ground were not necessarily places that I had a prior personal connection to and it was important to my process, as well as conceptually significant, that I actually felt the connection to the land that I was wanting to depict. The digital painting techniques gave me complete control to take the physical landscape and transform it into the metaphysical landscape that I saw in my mind. It was important for me that the images were manipulated in ways that were surreal, yet subtle, and blend into the existing scene in ways that prompted the audience to question their perceptions.
AK: Something I have always respected about you is your independent spirit and ability to set off into the wild! This is something that isn’t always taught to girls and women as a possibility for them. What advice do you have for a woman who may be interested in venturing out with just the open road and their camera but may be afraid or have been taught that isn’t a choice for them?
AJ: Thank you! I am very lucky to have gotten to travel and explore as much as I have. I have found that the most enlightening discoveries, personally and photographically, come from venturing outside your comfort zone. That said, safety is always a concern. Always be over-prepared, and have a healthy respect for the power of nature. Do your research and get familiar with the environment you’re going to be exploring. It’s a learning process, so start small and build up to the big adventure. And bring a friend to share the experience with!
AK: You have also been working on a new body of work about your family that has not just been released, but that you are previewing a few new images here. What is the focus of this body of work, and what is your vision for it? Does it have any related interests to Hallowed Ground?
AJ: Yes, I’m exploring a lot of similar themes in this new body of work. I think a big part of why I am continually pulled back to making work about man’s connection with nature is because it was, and still is, a very important part of my family’s identity and beliefs. This new work is about them, but it is also very much about a specific place. Much of the work has been photographed near their home in a rural area in the North Georgia Mountains. Their relationship with this land is complex. They’re at once dependent on it, defiant of it, and in cooperation with it, through harvest, flood, or fire. Through portraiture, still life, and landscapes this ongoing series explores mans place in the natural world through family histories and mythology, and a connection to the southern landscape that has spanned generations.
AK: You also have recently launched a new photography non-profit called Illuminate Atlanta that’s mission is to increase the accessibility of photographic education to under-served communities. Tell us a bit about how this non-profit came together, and what your vision is for the future. How can Lenscratch readers and folks who support the mission contribute?
AJ: Atlanta School of Photography Director, Sara Keith, and I were on a road trip when we had the idea to start Illuminate Atlanta. We were discussing accessibility in the arts and how a lack of access to equipment and instruction were barriers to a lot of people. Equitable access to arts education can help build and sustain economically and culturally vibrant communities. We wanted to democratize photography and believe that the Atlanta arts community should reflect its varied and diverse communities and their experiences. So, we decided to create programming that reached out to communities that are often under-served and under-represented in the arts, including children and adults in low-income areas, individuals with physical and developmental disabilities, and more.
We started laying the groundwork, creating outreach programs where we taught photography classes to kids through partnerships with other organizations and two years later we officially became a non-profit and formed Illuminate Atlanta Photography Outreach. The goal of Illuminate is not to re-invent the wheel, but to assist other organizations in photography education by providing equipment and instruction. We started small with summer programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and Hillside Inc. and now we’ve expanded to include additional programming partners such as Cool Girls Inc, the Community School, and Hirsch Academy as well as year-round programming, career development initiatives, and weekly kids classes. We hope to continue expanding to serve as many communities as possible.
For more information on Illuminate Atlanta, and to make a contribution or donate photography equipment, you can visit www.illuminateatl.com.
AK: In true Lenscratch tradition, let’s end by describing your perfect day!
AJ: My perfect day would be in one of my two favorite places:
Hiking with friends in the North Georgia Mountains, taking a dip in the Nantahala River, and then warming up by the campfire.
Camping at my favorite spot in Utah with family and friends, and shooting 4×5 as we explore the desert.
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