Ellen Jantzen: Transplanting Reality/Transforming Nature
Photographer Ellen Jantzen seems to be everywhere these days. An active on-line participant, Ellen often challenges and explores photographic ideas with the photography community and I enjoyed seeing her work on display at photo la. I had the pleasure of spending time with Ellen and her husband Michael at Fotoweek DC, and gaining a deeper understanding of her approach to making work. As an artist who uses photography as an art form, she is interested in states of reality. Born, raised, and currently living in St. Louis, Missouri, Ellen states: “As I become more aware of the many scientific theories about multi-universes, space/time conundrums and the like, I find reality difficult to define and a challenge to depict. I am drawn to this challenge by striving to make visual that which may not have a visual component. I am always interested in looking beyond the surface in the hopes of revealing something deeper and unexpected.”
She brings a new way of seeing and articulating the photographic landscape with her other-worldly imagery. She has had a lifetime of out-of-the-box thinking along with her husband Michael, who also has an ability to shift traditional ways of interpreting the world.
Her early college years were spent obtaining a degree in graphic arts; later emphasizing fine art. Upon graduation she and her husband, Michael, settled down on acreage in Southern Illinois and set about to construct several solar and energy efficient structures including their 2400 square foot home. Organic gardens and goat husbandry took center stage in Ellen’s life but a desire for a more “artistic” life led the couple to Los Angeles California. Ellen spent two years at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. After a few years working in the industry, including several years at Mattel Toy Company as a senior project designer, she became disillusioned with the corporate world and longed for a more creative outlet. Having been trained in computer design while at Mattel, Ellen continued her training on her own using mostly Photoshop software. As digital technology advanced and the newer cameras were producing excellent resolution, Ellen found her perfect medium. It was a true confluence of technical advancements and creative desire that culminated in her current explorations in photo inspired art using both a camera to capture staged assemblages and a computer to alter and manipulate the pieces. Ellen has been creating works that bridge the world of prints, photography and collage. Ellen is currently represented by Susan Spiritus of the Susan Spiritus Gallery and her work has been widely exhibited.
The natural world can be experienced on many levels, from the reality of a mountain to the ethereal essence of living beings. Trees, specifically, have always played a major role in my appreciation of nature. Trees produce the oxygen needed for our breath; we provide carbon dioxide for the trees…. a lovely symbiosis. Forests and trees have also played a prominent role in many folktales and legends and have been given deep and sacred meanings. They are seen as powerful symbols of growth, decay and resurrection.
But, with the depletion of forests and the resulting impact on humankind, how we respond will determine our future. In this series I am addressing my concerns by transplanting replica trees into the natural world. These trees take the form of a constructed likeness or of a ghostly apparition. One is artificial, the other a spirit form; both represent the transformation of nature.
How does one experience loss? What does loss look like? Catastrophic losses usually have a face; think war photos, photos from the World Trade Center, crashes of various sorts, but I am interested in personal loss. We all deal with “loss” in some form; loss of friends, home, youth, and the ultimate loss, loss of life. Death transforms us; reality shifts, but to what? I am intrigued with how a person adapts to these losses; how they are absorbed by events and changed.
I set about to address these issues through a photographic photosynthesis in this body of work, choosing photography as the medium to help me reveal reality while at the same time transform that reality to reflect a loss. In these images, I have placed my husband (Michael) in various environments where a loss of some sort has recently occurred. Some of the losses were very specific and personal and some were of a general, universal nature reflected in an inner state of anguish and eventual acceptance.
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