Q & A WITH JEN ERVIN

Jen Ervin was interviewed by CSA co-founder, Erin Nathanson. Her progression into photography, current subject, studio practices, and where she hopes her work will be one day were discussed.

EN: Can you remember taking your first photograph?

JE: When I was growing up in the ‘70s, my parents had a Kodak Instamatic Camera. It was a pretty inexpensive snapshot camera with flash cubes. I remember being fascinated with the cubes for some reason. My family didn’t use the camera much except to documents holidays, vacations and birthdays. I remember using it back then. My memory is fuzzy about how old I was, but I would say 7 or 8. Although, I don’t remember the specific details of the first image I made, I feel certain it was of a family member.

EN: Are there other artists in your family? If yes, have they directly influenced you as an artist?

JE:  I’m fortunate to be surrounded by many visual artists and musicians, on both my husband’s side of the family and my own. All of which have influenced my work. Music informs my work just as much as my visual surroundings. I find my artistic process relates well to the creative processes of many of the musicians I know. My maternal grandfather was an avid photographer, but I didn’t know him well. My father-in-law, Dewey Ervin, however, has been instrumental in the development of my photography. A talented and prolific photographer himself, he has in fact, given me many of the cameras I own as well as his unconditional support and has shared his expertise over the years. Growing up in a household without many photographs, I was awe inspired by the documentary-style photographs my father-in-law made of my husband and his siblings. Many of them adorn the walls of my husband’s childhood home. When I saw them for the first time, I decided I wanted to do that for my children one day. So, I guess I did, but in a more unconventional way.

EN: Was there an instant that defined your current subject matter: family and the Southern landscape?

JE: I started my Polaroid project on Memorial Day weekend, in 2012. A few months earlier, I impulsively purchased my Land 100 on eBay not knowing if it worked and without any formal project intentions. It was basically “love at first sight“. Many of the camera’s attributes drew me in. To me it had a sense of mystery, immediacy, and a connection to the past, and desirable compactibility. At the time I purchased it, I was exclusively shooting digital, but had a longing to get back into the traditional darkroom. I was beginning to feel detached from my photography and was seeking a way to bring warmth and intimacy back into my work. I was particularly drawn to the fact that the Land 100 used pack film made with traditional dark room chemicals to produce tiny little “dark room” prints.

With the nearing prospect of having my three daughters home for the summer, I was planning our family’s activities and trips for the upcoming months. Much of our plans included weekend trips to our family’s cabin, Ark Lodge, so I decided to bring my Land 100 along on our adventures. I felt it was the perfect place to bring it, as Ark Lodge is a traditional southern cabin built in the 40’s, decorated with an eclectic mix of old furnishings and set against the backdrop of unexplored wilderness. Time literally stands still down there.

EN: Describe your studio practice.

JE: Whenever we can, my family and I travel to Ark Lodge. It’s our place of refuge. The pack film I use uses traditional dark room chemicals that transfer a negative to a positive when squeezed through the camera’s rollers. Unfortunately, the film I use has recently been discontinued. So, I buy as much as I can, when I can, and save it to take with us on our trips to the Lodge. Once we’re there, I make as many photographs as I am able. When I return, my images are carefully enlarged in the digital darkroom into 8x10” archival pigment prints.

EN: What are your “must-have” item(s) in your studio and on a shoot?

JE: Tweezers + electrical tape + zip-loc bags.

EN: What is your dream day for shooting?

JE: Any day at the lodge, near the river or surrounding woods, is a good day for me. My Polaroid Land 100 seems to love bright, overcast days.

EN: Would you say you’re a documentarian of this time?

JE: No, I’m more of a visual storyteller. Surely, there is subtle layer of documentation to my work as it’s a reflection of my time spent with my children on our family’s land. I also can’t deny the fact that these small prints are reflective of vintage family photo albums. My intentions, however, are never to solely document moments of history. I’m more interested in creating unfinished, descriptive sentences that invite the viewer to decide its meaning. What ignites my passion to remain behind the lens is that photography blurs the lines of reality and fiction so well. My motivations ultimately pay tribute to my “southern-ness”. My work is rooted in the Old South’s ideal of weaving the past into the present through tradition with ties to its land and its people.

EN: Your work is small, subtle and intimate. Can you tell us why?

JE: Georgia O’Keeffe once said that she painted a flower big, so that people would see it. Now, I’m doing the opposite….creating small, hand-held works to grab people’s attention. I try to keep the initial imagery bold at first glance. The content, however, is intentionally subtle in the hopes that viewers will pause and linger in the intimate space I’ve created and ultimately participate in the completion of these little stories.

EN: How do your children react to being captured on film and seeing themselves in print and/or at a gallery?

JE: My children have been photographed their whole lives. They’re very comfortable in front a camera. They know the difference between making snap shots and fine art. It’s kind of funny actually. They can switch gears very easily depending on the circumstances. It’s just our way of life. Some families play board games together. We collaborate on photography projects together. I recently asked my oldest daughter how she feels knowing her portraits are hanging in a gallery and she responded proudly with a smile, “I like it.” And, one of my twins recently purchased her first camera with money she saved. Perhaps, I’ve unknowingly planted the seeds of little artists by including them in my own creative pursuits.

EN: Where will your artwork be one day? Who are you creating for?

JE: Ultimately, I create work out of a deep need to create. When in the process of creating, I lose my sense of self and feel connected to everyone and everything. Ideally I hope my artwork will remain in the hands of people who love and appreciate it.

Jen Ervin is one of the Spring Season artists.

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