Jenny is not your ‘normal’ photographer, anything but. Jenny is in a class of her own. Her mind is churning out creative ideas daily when most of us sit around hoping for some inspiration. Not only does Jenny think creatively, she acts on her ideas. While living in Rotorua Jenny held a very successful exhibition at the local Arts Centre. If I use the word miniatures some of you will switch off, but don’t. These were miniature photographs on glass, they almost could be called Medallions, after all you can hold them in the palm of your hand. As a group they make a statement, individually they are delicate and are part of a story. Mashkio Medailles in 2008 said “Medallions and Medals are 2 and 3 dimensional works, they are small enough to be appreciated in the hand, as if one is holding the entire idea of the artist” ( NZ Contemporary Medallion Group Jenny’s miniature works were on repurposed glass plates, with natural timber used to display these delicate morsels; in a play with scale, others were printed on large (600 x 600mm) glazed ceramic tiles and as framed art prints.
“We must live with the earth and deal with each other with compassion. If that word was a rule for living war, conflict and insults to Gaia would be irrelevant concepts. Difference would be accepted and respected. Violence would have no place. Balance would be a realistic goal.
Since I can remember I have felt very close to the earth and the natural world, Artemis is my muse. The explorer in me wants to understand all the whys and wherefores of this life. Art making allows me to make a translation of what I find. It’s a cleansing process. It allows interpretation of that which can’t be explained. It tells my stories.
Although the work I make has it’s beginnings in camera I don’t always feel a need for the endpoint to retain direct connection with the conventional idea of a photograph. Adding a third dimension is often more satisfying and relevant. Conceptual threads, weaving themselves through the timeline of my life, are related in some way to the human/earth/universe balance.
Capture is intuitive, and sometimes at the moment of pressing the shutter it is not always clear what it is that is connecting, or how the frame will be woven, although there is a thought running through me. In production I become aware of frames that have significance. From there I continue the intuitive process and find that the pictures largely make themselves. Sometimes they come in dreams. All are a response of my subconscious to concepts that have been developing from a point of observation of without from within.”
These works might only measure 2cm each. Collectively they make an intimate statement hung in small groups at eye level where one can enjoy the intricacy of the patterns.
Jenny, you grew up in a family where your grandfather was keen on photography, what are your first memories of using a camera?
I don’t remember being very old, but I was always fascinated by Grandpa peering down into the ground glass screen of his Rollei as he recorded our family life. I can remember him carefully fitting the strap around my neck and letting me look into it, and my surprise at the milky, upside down vision that revealed itself. I’m not sure he ever let me press the shutter though! Film was a bit precious. Later I found Dad’s old box brownie, he bought me some film, and I was in heaven! One clear memory is a picture I made of my friend, sitting cross-legged on the path running around our house with a lap full of baby bunnies, and more of them perched on her shoulders. Our dog had dug up the burrow so she and I had rescued them and had them living in the hot water cupboard. I photographed everything I could when I had that camera, with no knowledge of any of the “rules” pertaining to the medium. It was just my way of making sure I could treasure, and relive, a moment that moved me.
Do you have that photo to share with us?
It is definitely still around, but like most photographs from the days of film, if not in an album tucked away, I’m pretty sure it’s floating with other black and white, and sepia, gems from my parent’s and grandparent’s days, in a very special suitcase at my Mother’s place, to be dragged out every now and again on a rainy day and pored over.
From all your photography years do you have a favourite genre?
I guess abstract photography has always attracted me for the questions it raises. Conceptual for the same reasons. I like photography that encourages the viewer to want to raise dialogue with the artist. Documentary for the storytelling and awareness of important issues that can be opened up.
Can you name 2-3 photographers who have inspired you other than your Grandfather?
Some of the early photographers, Paul Strand and Alvin Langon Coburn to name a couple.
A fascinating abstract by Alvin Langon Coburn especially back in those times.circa 1916
More contemporary photographers are Edward Burtynsky, Lewis Baltz , Donovan Wylie and Megan Jenkinsen I know that’s more than 2-3, but I’m inspired by many, many photographers and artists really. It’s very hard to condense that inspiration down to even these ones.
Talking about your creativity Jenny, after your Rotorua exhibition I hear you hit a flat patch. Can you elaborate on this please?
Ha ha, I hit flat patches all the time, and I think everyone does. It can be a challenge though, if you believe that you must always be producing, and making “the best”. Sometimes allowing that flat patch its space allows the subconscious to process much of that we’re unaware of. Sometimes it’s ok to put down the tools. In hindsight, I think I didn’t realise that the energy that I put into putting the exhibition together, and the growth that came from the pressure cooker way it was done, was unsustainable. I made all the work for the exhibition in a period of three weeks. Luckily my husband was away much of that time; I don’t think he’d have enjoyed the activity at 2am on a regular basis. I would have loved to keep going, I just felt as if I was hitting my straps. Making art isn’t a full-time occupation for me yet, and I needed to refocus my energy onto other things. I guess that’s one of the things that does keep driving me to keep trying to make new work – I would love to make this a full-time occupation!
Isn’t it normal to have ‘writers block’ or a creative block from time to time?
Yes, it definitely is, and I believe that our development goes in steps rather than any sort of curve or linear increase. We push ourselves along until we hit a brick wall that seems to stall us, but it’s the pushing against this, and then the frustration of not being able to move on that finally gives us the impetus or “breakthrough” that gives us the next boost in development. I used to observe it with our children’s development, too. Sometimes it’s hard to get going again, and, with me particularly, I tend to go into “overthink” mode, so spend too much time trying to decide where to next. It’s known as paralysis by analysis, and my constant battle!
I hear a friend of yours gave you a daily challenge to help get the creative aspect of your life back on track. Has it worked??And what was that Challenge?
I did make the mistake of moaning to a friend that I couldn’t get motivated to pick up the camera again, or do anything that wasn’t related to just “existing”. The challenge felt deceptively simple, and I didn’t take it too seriously to begin with, but it definitely worked to fan the creative flame again. I got inspired, and I found that thinking about it only made it more difficult. The best results came from just acting in the moment.
I was challenged to photograph a consecutive number every day for thirty days. It made me aware of my surroundings, and to notice patterns and shapes again. At first I was looking at the most literal level, but got bored pretty quickly, and also found it difficult with limited time during the day, so I started creating the numbers, or trying to find different ways to represent the number. That’s when it became fun!
What will you do with your “number” images? Seems to me a coffee table book might be in the making, have you considered an art number book?
Yes, I think that’s one that might need a bit more time, but I’d enjoy it. I felt a bit lost when I’d finished 30 and really would like to keep going. The pressure to do it daily though is a bit much at the moment, but I haven’t thrown that idea away; as the days grow longer I may be able to make that happen.
The cats eyes with numbers is one of my favourites. I am sure you will agree they are very creative in their approach.
When a photographer runs out of ideas what suggestions can you offer them to become inspired again?
Firstly, be very careful who you tell! Seriously though, I think we only run out of ideas when we are in thinking mode. Often taking the mind out of the equation allows us to move into uncharted territory and we find something completely unexpected. Just committing to picking up the camera and making a picture everyday can help, especially if there is a longer time period involved. The first couple of days are easy, the next get a bit harder, and then frustrating. Suddenly something gives, and that’s about when you start to find new ways of working that break your previous creative restraints. Having someone else set the task really ensures that you don’t either stay in your comfort zone, or allow the mind to have control.
Setting a major project, like an exhibition, or book, or lessons for other people, WITH DEADLINES, can be an amazing way to boost creativity, because suddenly you’re under pressure to achieve. Diamonds are created under pressure 🙂 The other, and I guess most important, action is to keep trying to be inspired by other people’s work. Look at books, websites and ezines, there are some very interesting ones out there. Learn some art history. Even if it’s work you don’t like, it will help broaden your horizons and hone your own creative vision.
I think this is an ideal exercise for photographers suffering from a brain-dead period; do you mind other photographers emulating this project?
Absolutely not! I’m pretty sure a few people have been set this particular challenge, if not very similar ones, and I encourage everyone to use any means at their disposal to spread their creative wings. It’s all too easy to stay with what is safe, with what gets “likes”, and not break out into new territory. I’m not at all afraid of people not liking my work now, as long as it allows me to continue to learn and develop. If it pleases me, then I’m happy.
And lastly Jenny Couldrey…where is your creativity taking you currently?
Everywhere and anywhere. I keep visual diaries and they’re full of ideas of work I’d like to make. The moment something comes to me I make notes and draw pictures. Sometimes something comes of it, and sometimes not. I am keen to make more work with the glass. It’s a medium that I love to work with and it has much that is relevant to fixing an image. It’s sitting on the back burner presently as my real job is working as a builder, and we are currently immersed in a rebuild construction in Kaiapoi. When that requires less of my time I’ll be able to put more energy into my photographic work.
Over the last few years I’ve started working with anthotypes, making sun developed pictures on paper prepared with plant-based emulsion. Exposures can be hours, or days, or weeks. It’s a very organic process, and one I’m still waiting to get a decent exposure from. If I’m learning from my mistakes, then I must be learning heaps!! I’ll be back onto that this summer when there’s a bit more sunshine. At the moment I’m working on another challenge set to get me out of my comfort zone. I have a huge resistance to having my picture taken, it makes me very uncomfortable. So, a task has been set, slightly less fearsome than self portraits (although I can see that coming next!); to make 21 portraits of my husband. Thank goodness, he’s the most wonderful sport, and is allowing me to do what I need to make this happen.
Thanks Lynn, for encouraging me to contribute to your wonderful blog, and get on my soapbox. Creativity and being open-minded in any medium is very important to me, and, if in some small way I have encouraged anyone else to try something new, to break away from what they normally do, I’ll be very happy.
Email Jenny at email@example.com if you are interested in her work. It is definitely unique and quite exquisite.
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