Jordanna Kalman

artist, mother, photographer

 "You have to rip your work apart and put it back together over and over and be very honest with yourself."

10/26/17

interviewed by Bridget Collins

Iconversation

How did your interest in art begin?

I grew up with a darkroom in my house because my dad is a photographer and my mom was an artist so I was surrounded by a lot of art/photography. I became seriously interested in photography at around 14 years old and it just became a part of me. Looking back there was never really anything else I was going to be other than an artist.  

In your recent series, Little Romances, you rephotograph prints and negatives of the human figure.  This comes across to me as an exploration into memory and identity, how we are always forming ourselves out of our past experiences and bound to carrying our former selves with us.  Can you tell me more about this series and how you came to use this process of rephotographing prints and negatives?

For me, Little Romances is about control. In sharing previous work online, I found that it was being misappropriated and outright stolen. I consider my work to be fairly personal and it’s been stressful not having control over its use. In one instance I found my work on some guy’s website, being used as an illustration to an article he’d written. I contacted him and asked for payment for its use and then when he refused I asked him to at least take it down and he sent me a cease and desist letter from his lawyer. He claimed because he found it on Google Images it was free to use as he pleased. (btw it's not)

Photographing prints and negatives, treating them as objects infers ownership—my ownership. It creates a barrier between the work and viewer so the pictures that I’ve made are safe. I use plants from my garden or personal objects to deepen my connection to the images. A lot of my work involves obscuring itself so this series seems like a natural progression of what I’ve been doing.

The pictures that are being photographed come from a personal place, things I’m trying to work out. Having them laid out in front of me like a puzzle to solve, it allows a feeling of control over these issues.  

 

 A lot of your images use the figure, particularly the female figure, as subject.  What attracts you to photographing the human form?

My work is rooted in emotion and the female form seems like the best way for me to express what I’m feeling.

It seems like such a simple thing, a body, but there’s so much going on inside… that’s what I want for my work, simple images with a lot going on behind them. I don’t consider myself a figurative photographer, I think that’s more of an interest in the pure beauty of form. I bring all my emotional baggage onto the scene and hope that some of it ends up in a photo. I work with people I have a connection with, if I don’t feel anything for the person it’s hard to make pictures with them. The same goes for the women I work with and my kids. It’s less about form and more about those specific people resonating with me. The people I work with are very generous. They allow me access to something in themselves that I myself can only express through pictures; they let me speak through them.

What inspired you to start Streit House Space?  

I had a very bad year and was fed up with submitting to things. I felt that if I was paying a fee to submit to something I should at the very least get an email even if I wasn’t accepted. In one instance I paid $40 to submit my work and never heard anything back, not even an acknowledgement for submitting. It’s hard enough putting work out there, and to pay money to be ignored… I’d reached my limit.

Also I saw what was being accepted to places I had been submitting to and realized that I was never going to fit in. I wanted to take my frustration, do something positive, and help promote other artists.  

Does curating inform your art making practice at all?  

It doesn’t inform me creatively but it has taught me so much about presenting my work, being more professional and made me a better editor. That’s something that I’ve found so many photographers are terrible at; editing their work. I’d say 80% of work I see, the photographer will have maybe two or three decent images and the rest is filler. Or the series is just bloated with way too many images. Or they’ll have a “series” that’s only two photographs. That sort of thing makes me scrutinize my own edits. It’s the hardest part of making a series. You have to rip your work apart and put it back together over and over and be very honest with yourself.

What inspired you to print out the images for this project?

I had been editing my own work by printing out pictures and taping them to the wall and I really liked how it made the stronger pictures stand out. I feel like it’s when a song can be stripped down and played acoustically and it’s still good.

I thought maybe other people would be interested too, seeing their work on the wall but in a casual way. To me it feels a bit more special than just seeing photos reproduced perfectly on a screen.

 

Has motherhood altered or informed your artistic process at all?

Becoming a mom changed my life. It’s made me think a lot more about being a woman and realize how badly I was treated by my own mother. Every day I pinch myself because I can't believe how lucky I am to have my kids in my life. So much of this and more has made its way into what I make. It also means I’ve had to find different ways to work in order to adapt to only having small amounts of time to myself. My life and work are pretty much one and the same. Maybe that sounds a bit affected but they influence each other completely.

What is the most challenging thing about pursuing an artistic career?

I honestly feel like to get ahead you have to be great at schmoozing. I’m awful at it. I had a professor at school who told us to go to openings, get drunk and talk to as many people as you can about your work. And guess, what I saw her on the cover of Artforum a few years later! Making art is great. Trying to get it out into the world is a nightmare.

What advice would you give young artists?

Work hard, challenge yourself, and be gracious.

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