Jessica Auer

Jessica Auer is a photographer and visual artist from Montreal, Canada. Her work is broadly concerned with the study of cultural sites, focusing on themes that connect history, place, journey and cultural experience. Since earning her MFA from Concordia University in 2007, she has participated in several international residency programs including the Leighton Artist’s Colony at The Banff Centre in Alberta, the Brucebo travel residency based in Gotland, Sweden, The Chilkoot Trail AIR in Alaska/Yukon and the Skaftfell Centre for Visual Art in Seydisfjördur, Iceland. Recent exhibitions include: Oslo8 gallery in Basel, Switzerland; The Gotland Museum of Art in Visby, Sweden; Sporobole centre en art actuel, in Sherbrooke, Quebec; VU Photo in Quebec City; The Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal; Patrick Mikhail Gallery in Ottawa; and Newspace Centre for Photography in Portland, Oregon. She currently teaches photography at Concordia University in Montreal and is represented by Patrick Mikhail Gallery.

Trullhausan 001

Uknown Iron Age 001Gammlahamn2 001Streymoy 001

Saga Lands

“Based in oral storytelling, the Icelandic sagas remain the most extensive literary source on the history of early European exploration. As the word ‘saga’ means both ‘history’ and ‘story’, the memory of these events dissolved behind the myths and these stories became part fiction and part documentary.

In this body of work, I took inspiration from Viking Age history and Saga literature to examine this historical enigma. Focusing on the narrative potential of landscape, I photographed archaeological and saga sites throughout the North Atlantic, resulting in a series of large-scale photographs that trace a westward journey from Sweden to the New World. These images reveal historical traces yet invite speculation. As we continue to move about altering the landscape, new layers are laid and old ones redacted. As such, the landscape becomes a stratified space where subjective perspectives are encouraged to take shape.”

Borg ruins 001island fjord 001

AB: When did you become most interested in photographing the landscape?
JA: Photography and landscape actually came together for me at the same time. Shortly after I turned 10 years old, my parents divorced, and as a consolation my father bought me a 35mm Nikon camera. He also told me to pack a bag and be ready to leave the next day – I would be travelling with him throughout the summer and that all I needed was a small bag of clothes, a book and the camera. Thus began my first major road trip and my first photographic adventure. Day after day, I experienced a cinematic view of the Canadian landscape from the front passenger seat. I witnessed the subtle changes as we traversed the geography of such a diverse country, snapping photos of everything from roadside attractions to black spruce forests and the trains that often glided alongside the Trans Canada Highway. Our arrival in Banff National Park was the most striking experience of the journey. Banff presented an explosion of photographic content – colorful lakes, precipitous mountains, spiraling railways, and lots of people. During this experience I also that learned that landscape was not just about nature but also about the culture of nature.

Kaupang 001Berserkjahraun2 001

AB: Do you usually travel by yourself when you’re working on a series? What is that like?
JA: I’ve travelled quite a bit, both alone and with companions depending on the project and the type of travel. But in recent years I’ve mostly travelled alone and done a few artist residencies abroad. I prefer the openness and spontaneity that solo travel usually offers. When I’m working alone, I’m more open to meeting new people and having new experiences. I’m self-aware and have the time and space to observe, reflect and develop ideas – and all these processes ultimately impact the depth of my work. I’m very comfortable with solitude and I’m content spending many days alone, just walking, shooting and reading. When travelling to remote locations or backpacking in the wilderness, having the support of another person can be crucial but I’m getting more and more comfortable traveling alone to remote destinations. Since 2013, I’ve shot 2 short films in far-off places (South Greenland and in Keno City, Yukon.) Working with video often requires that I team up with a cinematographer and sound person but this past year my strategy was to travel to the site on my own first so that I can connect with the place, and be joined later by the crew that I’ll be working with. Since I mostly work with a 4×5 film camera and with video, many people ask if I have trouble carrying all my gear but since I’m organized and well prepared, it’s never really been a big issue.

AB: Can you explain to me why you choose to include people in some of your photographs and others without? Do you prefer composing a landscape without people included or vice versa?
JA: Whether I choose to include people in my images or not usually depends on the project and what I’m trying to address with that body of work. For example, in “Re-creational Spaces” and “Studies on How to View Landscape,” I’m interested in either the human-altered landscape or the way other people look at or experience place, therefore it makes sense to include people in the work. Normally I will include the figure to speak directly about human interaction with the environment, or sometimes more as a visual technique to show the scale of the site. In other projects such as “Unmarked Sites”, “Saga Lands” or more recently “January”, the work is about my own personal experience of place or journey through the landscape, therefore I try to eliminate the “noise” that other figures might bring to the images, and concentrate more on showing what I discover and how I see landscape, which I am most of the time experiencing alone.

Hobbit 001Eriksstadir 001Thingvellir rescan 001GardarStorage 001

AB: Do you usually travel by yourself when you’re working on a series? What is that like?
JA: I’ve travelled quite a bit, both alone and with companions depending on the project and the type of travel. But in recent years I’ve mostly travelled alone and done a few artist residencies abroad. I prefer the openness and spontaneity that solo travel usually offers. When I’m working alone, I’m more open to meeting new people and having new experiences. I’m self-aware and have the time and space to observe, reflect and develop ideas – and all these processes ultimately impact the depth of my work. I’m very comfortable with solitude and I’m content spending days on end alone, just walking, shooting and reading. When travelling to remote locations or backpacking in the wilderness, having the support of another person can be crucial but I’m getting more and more comfortable traveling alone to remote destinations. Since 2013, I’ve shot 2 short films in far-off places (South Greenland and in Keno City, Yukon.) Working with video often requires that I team up with a cinematographer and sound person but this past year my strategy was to travel to the site on my own first so that I can connect with the place, and be joined later by the crew that I’ll be working with. Since I mostly work with a 4×5 film camera and with video, many people ask if I have trouble carrying all my gear but since I’m organized and well prepared, it’s never really been a big issue.

AB: I often find videos satisfying to experience when paired alongside photographs. How do you think video strengthens a body of work? Do you usually include audio in your videos?
JA: I started working with video as a way to explore a more relative sense of time within landscape and in my work. Although I love the inherent stillness of the photographic image, I also enjoy being able to play with duration when working with video. My video work can be described as ‘photographic’ in the sense that images linger for quite some time, reinforcing the meditative ambiance I try to convey with my photographs. Depending on the project itself, I sometimes work with sound and other times I do not, but there tends to be a general pattern so far. I’ve presented two video installations that are combined with photographs where the gallery remains silent, closer to how one would experience a photo exhibition. When I’m working more within a documentary or filmmaking style, such as with “Still Ruins, Moving Stones” the short film that I made about the restoration of Norse ruins in Greenland, the dramatic sound becomes a very important element that helps to drive the narrative. When I have the opportunity to present these short films in gallery settings, I also consider how the sound will be felt or experienced within the space itself.

Hvalsey camp2 001Auer_Jessica_14

AB: Do you have any new projects in the making? Any exciting future travel plans?
JA: Yes, I’m often working on 2-3 projects at a time. I have an exhibition coming up in Montreal in January with the work that I shot last winter in Iceland. The post-production has taken the whole year as I’m combining a number of presentation methods such as lightboxes, video projection and a large-scale photo installation. I’m actually travelling right now, currently in the Lofoten Islands of Norway where I’m working on some experimentations with image and sound. The landscape here is absolutely stunning but over the last few years I’ve become interested in the Hurtigruten, a passenger-cargo ship that regularly makes an 11-day journey up and down the jagged Norwegian coastline. So I’ve come up to the Lofoten Islands each year, to observe the Hurtigruten as it calls into the harbour in Svolvær twice a day, one ship travelling northbound and the other south. Each time the Hurtigruten announces its arrival by sounding its horn, causing a marvellous echo as the sound reverberates off the the surrounding mountains. For this trip I’ve decided to come during the Polar night, to observe how one’s perception of sound is heightened by darkness.

Gardar stone 001L'anse aux meadows 001

To view more of Jessica’s work please visit her website.



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