Interview with photographer Ellen Jantzen
F-Stop Magazine: The Portfolio 2019 issue of F-Stop Magazine features your project “ Mid+West,” can you tell us about this project? What led to this work?
Ellen Jantzen: After spending most of my adult life in California, I moved back to the St. Louis area in 2009 to help both my husband’s mother and my parents. I quickly reacquainted myself with the area of my youth. But after my parents passed on, my husband and I headed back west. This time we alighted in Santa Fe New Mexico. Here the culture is quite different than either what we were accustomed to in California or the Mid West. I started thinking about how the place of one’s birth greatly influences who they are but through moving, new foods, cultures, languages and landscapes await to reshape their very being. Even though I didn’t really encounter a great deal of differences in people there were subtle language differences, definitely food differences and some culture shifts that required adjustment on my part.
The most profound change for me was the landscape. In Mid+West I am exploring how one’s landscape, whether rural, suburban or urban, can utterly reshape them and how through relocation they grow and flourish. They become, in essence, a blending of all former homelands with the present.
F-Stop: How does this project relate to your previous landscape projects?
EJ: Most of my past landscape projects centered on where I was living at the time. A lot of my landscape projects also dealt with memory and I liked revisiting a given location during different seasons and different years, again, combining images in a non “decisive moment” sort of way to help convey the fragile nature of memory. So, once again, I am dealing with memory here, but am blending two locations rather that the same location during different times.
F-Stop: Can you discuss your process for making these images, or your creative process more generally?
EJ: I start with digital photographs I took… Here I sort through previous images from my five years in the Midwest and chose ones that I feel provide the opportunity of blending with my current New Mexico landscapes.
As I work, I use various tools in Photoshop to draw, cut out, and select. Often I have dozens of layers that are meticulously created and blended to form my final image. I always save two files, one in which all of the layers are flattened into one photograph for printing and a second file where the layers are kept separate. This gives me the opportunity to revisit an image.
F-Stop: How do you choose what to photograph in the landscape or nature, what are you looking to capture?
EJ: I look for opportunities. By that I mean I look for what will reinforce my concept. I take quite a few shots so as to have more information to draw upon when creating and to leave room for surprising captures. Once back at my computer I begin my work by sorting through my images and selecting the ones that seem most promising.
F-Stop: What do you hope people experience or feel when they look at your photographs?
EJ: I normally title my pieces in a way that does not mandate a specific meaning. I like to leave the interpretations open so that viewers can bring their own experiences into the image. It is quite surprising to learn of other’s meaning and understanding of an image of mine. Many times it is quite different than my intention, but that’s okay with me as long as it speaks to them
F-Stop: Do you have a favorite image in this series? If so, which one and why is it the image that speaks to you most?
EJ: That’s kind of like asking a parent who their favorite child is 🙂
Perhaps “Emergence” because of the natural occurrence of cedar (juniper) trees in both the Midwest and New Mexico that gives a cohesive feel to this image. Of course the mountains are not in the Midwest, so blending of environments does occur. Also, I like the subtle reference to roots in the image.
A second one would be “Gallup Lakeside” for the opposite reason. The strong rock formation is indicative of New Mexico, not in the least like anything in the Midwest. So the combination of that formation with a Midwestern water element gives a uniquely blended look to the image.
F-Stop: What photographers or other artists inspire you?
EJ: I have been inspired by the photography duo ParkeHarrison and the work of Jerry Uelsmann. I am also intrigue with the work of John Stezaker. Ultimately though, I am inspired by the work of my husband, Michael Jantzen who untiringly strives to innovate.
Also published on Medium.