JESSICA AUER. SAGAS
by David Pollock



© Jessica Auer, Open Cairn, Kauparve, 2014

Its been about 5 years since our last interview. How have your thoughts and interests regarding your work changed; or has it?

Jessica Auer (JA): While I've produced a lot of new work and learned so much more about the world, I don't think my interests have changed dramatically. I have a tendency to work between two thematics – history and tourism– and while these topics consistently overlap in my work, one project or another deals with one of these concerns more directly. I dedicated a good part of the last five years to studying a particular historical period, the Viking Age, and how stories from this time were first recorded orally and then later in writing. They are known as the Sagas, and became the inspiration for my trilogy of photo and video works called 'Before History', 'Saga Lands' and 'The New World'. Much like the project that we discussed in my last interview ['Unmarked Sites'], these works still speak to the notion of landscape as a keeper of history and a catalyst for storytelling. Yet issues of tourism are still current in the work. Tourism and culture are intertwined as tourism is very much about selling landscape and cultural heritage. And as always, I like to acknowledge my own role as tourist and tour guide as I travel to far off places to document these sites. What has evolved in my work is the yearning to spend longer periods of time exploring a single place in great detail as well a conveying a stronger sense of intimacy in my work. I’ve also become more interested in filmmaking.


© Jessica Auer, Gravefield#1, Trullhausar, 2014 

Landscape photography is static, yet ironically, in your case, always points to a place that is in transition. We think of rocks and mountains as permanent objects in the Landscape but 'Saga Lands' suggests that the land is constantly being altered by humans.

JA: In my project 'Saga Lands' I’m presenting landscapes that were marked by a certain era, in this case, the Viking Age. And through this process of documenting places that contain traces of the past, I’m trying to point out a number of concepts that extend beyond the beauty of the places that I photograph. Among these is the notion that land, as you say, is constantly being altered by humans, but also that the landscape itself can function like a photograph, a natural means of recording events that can be visually expressed. A landscape photograph may be a still image, yet a photograph can still allude to several moments in time– firstly the moment the image was captured, but it can also convey a sense of geological or historical time. Furthermore, a photograph as an image takes on a life of its own and then the meaning of the landscape or of the photograph has the possibility to change over time. I assume that the people looking at my photographs have a general understanding of the world, allowing them to use their memory or imagination to fill in the time before and after the image was taken. Therein lies that narrative potential of still landscape photograph.


© Jessica Auer, Continental Rift, Thingvellir, Iceland, 2014

Please talk about scale in your work within a Gallery setting

JA: Whether I am using photography or video to explore a place, one simple idea throughout all my work is that I would like to convey a sense of “being there”. Although I still find it very challenging to translate an experience of place into an image, working with gallery installation provides some creative ground for drawing a viewer into the world I am surveying and allowing them to make discoveries for themselves. Printing large-scale is a pretty conventional approach to creating an immersive experience for viewers. When looking at an image that is wider than let’s say, one’s shoulders, the viewer may begin to ignore what is in their peripheral vision and have an individual experience with the work. And the experience changes with distance – one can step back and look at the whole picture or come close to observe details.


© Presented as photographic installation, Meadow brings the gallery visitor into the realm of an idyllic landscape, recalling the representation of landscape through painting, photography and literature. The exhibition was presented at Patrick Mikhail Gallery in Ottawa. 

This is how I started to think about scale when printing my work but I also like to consider the gallery space as well. For example, I’ve filled entire walls with an image like wallpaper, installed wall to wall images on the floor and filled large exterior windows to make the public curious enough to look at the work or enter the gallery. I’ve also tried juxtaposing photography with video projections to create one single work. When installing video work, which is quite flexible in terms of playing with scale, a starting point to consider is whether the space is suitable, and how it can be improved or modified. How will the ambient and projected light convey a certain atmosphere? Can images or sound influence one’s sense of physicality? How does the overall installation of an exhibition guide the viewer and support the work? I try to consider these questions with every image that I intend to exhibit.


© Installation views 'A New World' at Sporobole centre en art actuel, Sherbrooke, Quebec, 2014. 

What do you perceive to be significant differences and similarities between traditional Landscape painting and the kind of Landscape photography that you are engaged in. (I know the above question is rather general when talking about such a big subject as Landscape painting.)

JA: The history of landscape painting is certainly a huge subject! Broadly speaking, I believe there are two overlaps between the type of landscape photographs I make and some of the approaches that have been made by traditional landscape painters. The first would be a formal concern, mainly having to do with the sense of space. I tend to photograph places that can be read within a broader context, so one or more elements within a given space. When I select a subject or scene to photograph I think about distance, scale, perspective and composition the way a traditional landscape painter would. The formal attention that I give to image-making is akin to that of many photographers working within a “new documentary style” and is something that defines this type of photography aesthetically but also relates to a photographic process which is quite slow. I shoot on film, mostly large format and always on a tripod. This slow-ish, more contemplative approach is also where my work overlaps with painting, particularly with painters that work plein-air. I love working outdoors and I like to take my time photographing, observing and reflecting. The moment I press the shutter is just a sliver of the process in which the picture is made. The main difference is that I work directly from the world, and most of the work is in finding a scene and taking the photo at the right time. Painters have the liberty to combine elements, alter the sense of light, invent details and so on. Photographers can do this on computer now but it’s not the type of photography that I’m interested in at the moment. I enjoy the quest of finding an image rather than crafting it afterwards.


© Jessica Auer, Mountain, Fjord, Faroe Islands, 2014

What are you currently working on and do you have any photographic plans for the near future?

JA: I’m thrilled to be working again in Iceland, where I have been in residence for the past few months. The 'Saga Lands' project brought me a here several times within the last few years but I’m now turning my attention towards the dramatic increase in tourism. This summer I’m starting to look at the impact of tourism on Icelandic culture. As a starting point I have been inviting people – tourists and locals– to go on walks with me. Last year, during a winter residency in Seyðisfjörður, I took the opportunity to focus on walking as an artistic activity and I would now like to relate this practice with tourism by creating an opportunity for cultural exchange; to have meaningful conversation with others over an extended period of time. Now that I am back in Seydisfjördur, I’m taking the time to connect many of the notions that circle around within my work: travel, landscape, tourism and cultural preservation.

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LINKS
Jessica Auer
urbanautica Canada