Julianne Nash (b. 1991, Massachusetts) is a New York City based photographer. She is currently pursing an MFA in Photography Video and Related Media at the School of Visual Arts, where she has been awarded the Assistantship Scholarship for two consecutive years. Julianne received her BFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design with Departmental Honors in 2013. Her work has most notably been exhibited in The Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Festival, and at the Photographic Resource Center in Boston, MA. Most recently, Julianne exhibited her work at the Emerging Artist Juried Exhibition at the Drawing Room Gallery in Cos Cob, CT. She is the Director of Operations at Collection Dancing Bear, W.M. Hunt, and is the assistant to Angela Strassheim.
I am interested in the degradation of human vision versus logarithmic computer vision, because of the knowledge that I may inherit vision loss. To explore this idea, I implement the use of stacking algorithms counter-intuitively to create densely layered landscape and floral still life images; condensing the passing of time and the vastness of space into a singular frame. I purposefully confuse the patterns that the computer relies on to create a cohesive image by using tools that are made to blend on similarities, and forcing it to blend on differences. Thus, causing the computer to fail in the manner in which it sees. Through the use of a familiar visual language, I hope to challenge the viewers understanding of the inherent tropes and indexicality of photography.
First, I have to ask, why flowers? How did you come about using flowers as part of your work?
Its funny you should ask that because the flowers found me, really. I never foresaw myself using flowers in my work, as I always thought they were a slight cliche of romanticism. And, frankly, I’ve always hated receiving them from anyone other than my Grandfather–they were his favorite gift and I have kind of always reserved them in my heart for him. After he passed away, my Grandmother felt obliged to continue the tradition, and gave me a bouquet of flowers for my birthday; she made it a point to sign the card, “Love, Grandpa”. I developed a really strange relationship with this bunch of flowers; they seemed so emotionally charged, as I had only recently removed him from life support and was still very raw from the experience. It seemed only natural to me to photograph it everyday, in hopes of preserving some shred of his memory. I had no idea at the time what I was going to do with them at first, but once I started working with them I realised that focus stacking them all together would be able to show the durational transformation the flowers went through in one image. I continually stacked them until the boundaries of the image was pushed into chaos. Seeing the result for the first time–the surprise!–was a really ethereal experience.
You use digital manipulation as part of your work process, it is not only an atheistic choice, but it is a crucial part of your concept. Can you tell us more about it?
The intention in my work is to create images that are difficult for the eye to comprehend through the use of digital manipulation, as I am interested in the degradation of human vision versus logarithmic computer vision because of the knowledge that I may inherit vision loss. To explore this idea, I implement the use of stacking algorithms counter-intuitively to create densely layered landscape and still life images; either condensing the passing of time or the vastness of space into a single frame. I confuse the patterns that the computer relies on to create a cohesive image, by using tools that are made to blend on similarities, thus causing the computer to fail in the manner in which it sees. These algorithms process each individual pixel within hundreds of photographs in order to combine them into one stratigraphic image; the result is optically challenging for the viewer, as the combined images are from a myriad of viewpoints. I hope to guide the viewers through an immersive illusion of augmented nature–one in which they contemplate our greater ineffable existence. While the images are at once abstract, they also have just enough familiar visual cues in them so as to become disquieting. My hope is that by using something visually familiar and transforming it, I can disconcert viewers and challenge their perception of the inherent tropes and indexicality of photography.
You chose to use still life as a way of expressing your personal feelings and ideas, what in still life resins most with you?
You can control every aspect of your image when the subject is still, and I find such an fascinating didacticism in photographing something ordered and bringing it into a chaotic algorithm. Having the ability to control everything before losing control to the computer feeds both of my needs as an artist. I’m obsessive, yet free form! But, to be quite honest, my favorite part of still life is the lack of people, as I prefer to create alone. I do not like having to direct a person (especially a stranger or a model) to do what I envision. Plants don’t speak, they don’t move when the light is perfect, they do not have personalities I have to contend with. Truly, the only people I have ever really felt comfortable photographing has been select family members–I am far too cripplingly awkward for anyone else!
Your work is very personal, and like many of us artists, we can struggle sometimes with creating a bridge between that personal space and the collective. Do you find yourself asking this in your work?
Constantly! Everything I make comes from a place of deep contemplation, and more often than not, pain. I have never been the kind of voyeuristic photographer that can just go out and make photographs on the street or at parties; I process far too slow for that. I am kind of the opposite of the “decisive moment”…I am more of the “stop-and-stare/think-about-it-for-days” kind of photographer. Which often leads to me wearing my heart on my sleeve. My past work was extremely personal, which often left people in kind of a vulnerable place. Like, why am I making people look at my tear filled tissues? Are they really thinking about their own loss or just feeling awkward and sad for me? With my newer work I am trying to make it more universal, although still coming from a very personal and emotional space. I still really want the viewer to feel something deeper than the surface of the print, but I also think about the beauty and universality of flowers and forests that can be appreciated merely aesthetically. I am thinking about absence, memento mori, and blindness while creating the work; and like any artist, I hope my intentions shine through. I think a photograph that uses beauty as a vehicle to grabs the viewer’s attention can bridge that odd gap between artist and audience. If the audience can think beyond the beauty, then I feel that I have succeeded.
It seems as if all of your photographic work is tied together. Although all separate projects, they all come down to very personal, family and memory oriented. This is not a question, but would love to hear how you see all these projects to be connected and how do they differ from one another.
You are totally right in noticing that. Everything I create comes from the heart. I feel things very deeply and often have a hard time separating myself from it. Right now, a very common thread is familial loss and trauma, because that has been the most predominate change within my life in the past five years. I processes changes with my camera. After completing “Unseeing” I continued to photograph my grandparents, however as their conditioned worsened, I started projecting my feelings onto the landscape. I was using photographs of plants and animals as a placeholder for them, trying to articulate the nebulous zone between life and death, cognition and confusion. Which has obvious connections to what I am making now. I guess it comes to the fact that each changing project has a similar trajectory as my life, so it’s only natural that they somehow all connect.
What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio? Which materials are you exploring right now?
Photoshop is my tool of choice for formal work; however, I experiment a lot in my studio. I’m currently playing around with casting various flowers in resin. I’m using fresh, dried, constructed and printed florals and combining them into a 2D/3D still life. I am also meticulously cutting printed photographs to construct my own image stack, per say. I can’t resist working with my hands and testing out ideas, apart from a simple printed image, which often influences my more formal work in ways I could never imagine. Also, I cannot work without some peaceful music, which is a tool in an of itself. The right music can cause you to make the right choices while creating. Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of classical and jazz while working, it helps reduce the stress of wanting everything to be perfect. Grad school is crazy, so anything stress reducing is mandatory! 🙂
When and how did you first become interested in photography?
My mother has always been a recreational photographer, so I kind of inherited a love for the camera at a young age. I would always want to look through her zoom lens as a kid, and dream about having my own. Although I started photographing with my ~Barbie dream camera~ very young, I didn’t really fall in love with the medium until I took some classes at Mass Art while I was in High School. Once I saw my first photograph appear in the darkroom, the rest was history!
What was your biggest failure in your opinion and how do you think, now after some time, it helped you?
I can remember a distinct day in undergrad where I had about 30 sheets of 4×5 film all come back overexposed. Something went wrong with my light meter, and I was so furious and disappointed in myself for making such a mistake so late in my practice. Since I did not have enough time to head back home to photograph again before my crit, I just started going crazy with the film. I started bleaching, boiling, microwaving, literally doing anything I could think of to some clearly unusable film in hopes that I would either feel better because of the destruction, or something could come of it. This (kinda psychotic) episode ended up leading me to creating these gorgeous abstract images that made the body of work so much better. By throwing caution to the wind, I learned that I could remove each layer of the emulsion and it could look like an abstract retina! Although it’s very corny to say, failure can lead us to our greatest successes!
Do you think the fact that your work features flowers and are so darn pretty, that people judge them based on this?
Absolutely. I am in a constant battle with my peers over the validity of making beautiful photographs. So many people do not look beyond the inherent beauty of flowers, which is extremely frustrating. But I firmly believe that if the images were not beautiful then they would not have the same impact. I do understand that flowers can be such a cliche, and are difficult to separate from their inherent metaphorical language (and I make it a point to not speak about the symbolism of each flower). However, when I think about Ori Gersht’s work, flowers are actually the last thing on my mind. Rather, I am thinking about destruction, scientific discovery, war and loss. “Successful art rediscovers beauty for us”. (Robert Adam’s Beauty in Photography)
What is the best tip you think you can give a fellow young artist?
First off, Never be too self conscious to try something new. Follow your gut. If you think something is good, keep at it. And secondly, sacrifice in the name of art. Your practice is the most crucial aspect of your life. Everything else will fall into place around it.
To view more of Julianne’s work please visit her website.