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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IN THE STUDIO: JEN ERVIN

Spring artist, Jen Ervin recently moved out of her studio at Redux and integrated her workspace into her home on Daniel Island. She invited CSA over for a visit. Here is what we found.

Jen’s artistic time is split between shooting outdoors in the wild and processing her prints in her digital lab nestled in a corner of her bedroom. Her favorite on-site locations: their family’s cabin, Ark Lodge, or the wooded areas near her home.

PICTURED ABOVE: Jen’s constant companion, her trusty 1963 Polaroid Land 100 Camera. Photos by Francis Ervin, 2014

Here is a selection of Ervin’s favorite film cameras and tools. Her first camera, a Pentax K1000 is included.

View of her desk where she reads, writes and reflects on her adventures.

A good part of her studio practice also involves cataloging and sorting her work.

PICTURED ABOVE: Recent Polaroid of Ark Lodge, 3.25”x4.25”; Flat files of an antique map drawer store her collections of photographs and feathers.

An inspiring quote by Louise Bourgeois hangs on a wall in her studio; her portable record player is always nearby.

Imagery of her favorite on site location.

PICTURED ABOVE: 3.25xx4.25”Polaroids of the area near her family’s cabin.

This is how a Polaroid looks within minutes of shooting. Once it is pulled through the camera, a Polaroid can take 1 to 5 minutes to develop. Then the image is peeled apart, on site.

Jen Ervin is one of the Spring Season artists.

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INSPIRATION: JENNIFER ERVIN

We asked Spring artist Jen Ervin about what inspires her as an artist. Here is what we learned about her passion for photography and the stories she aims to share through her lens.

FAMILY AND THE SOUTHERN LANDSCAPE are the main subjects of Ervin’s Polaroids.

Baby Alligator, Front Yard of Ark Lodge, Gresham, SC, Memorial Day, 2012 and Road to Lodge, Dusk, 2014 by Jen Ervin

“As a photographer, my intentions behind the lens are to create simple yet complex compositions. I’m interested in making images that blur the lines of reality and fiction. I carefully and intuitively compose each Polaroid making sure to leave a puzzling amount of detail to require a closer investigation from the viewer.

Most of my Polaroid work is made at our family’s historic cabin, Ark Lodge, which was built in the 1940’s. The lodge’s walls are paneled with cypress and lined with shelves that display an eclectic collection of found & gifted treasures over the years. In “Baby Alligator”, my daughter is holding one the most prized treasures of the lodge’s collection. She chose to carry it with us as we explored the area together for one last adventure before ending our weekend. At the place of capture, golden light was pouring through the cypress swamp, reflecting on its dark waters. It was a place where we had seen many baby alligators. It seemed natural to weave a story here, one that wove the past with the present with a poetic thread of the mysterious South”. - Jen Ervin

PHOTOGRAPHERS such as Thekla Ehling, Emmet Gowin, and Sally Mann have greatly influenced her work.

Thekla Ehling open book by Jennifer Ervin and Nancy Wells, Danville, Virginia, 1969, by Emmet Gowin

HER HERO is American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist Patti Smith.

Patti Smith by Judy Linn

QUOTES ignite her passion to create thoughtful work.

“I need to say to you. There are things in your life that only you will see, stories that only you will hear. If you don’t tell them or write them down, if you don’t make the picture, these things will not be seen, these things will not be heard.” - Emmet Gowin

“Without being able to explain, I know it absolutely, that it [capturing something transcendent] happens sometimes, and I know by the way I feel in the action that it goes like magic — this is it. It’s as though there’s a wonderful secret in a certain place and I can capture it. Only I can do it at this moment, only this moment and only me… That’s a hell of a thing to believe, but I believe it or I couldn’t act.” - Walker Evans

MUSIC is a constant companion. Groups such as the Rolling Stones, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Vetiver, as well as musicians from the blues and proto-punk genres have provided a soundtrack for her life.

Neal Casal is one of Ervin’s favorite musicians. He plays guitar with Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. She took this photo at Redux Contemporary Art Center when Casal was in town with Chris Robinson Brotherhood in 2012.

Jen Ervin is one of the Spring Season artists.

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PURCHASE JENNIFER’S SEASON