Interview with photographer Jessica Paullus

From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus

My Mother, Myself: Introspective Healing

I became aware of Jessica Paullus’ work in the past couple years, and then was suggested to get in touch with her through a third person. After Jessica and I had spoken and had some conversation about the work, I became more greatly attuned to the gravity of her project, My Mother, Myself.

I’ve had a photo book by Lorena Turner, A Habit of Self Deceit, for a couple years now. The book centers on the theme of loss, hurt, neglect and largely about parenting. I didn’t know how to process the work for a very long time. I needed to follow the breadcrumbs; find the influences behind the work. It was only until feeling rather lost myself, that I began to see the equivalents she made between places and objects which bear no direct meaning upon the other. When a viewer applies a theme, when one discovers the context needed, then the pieces can fall into place. I needed to feel lost in order to gain the insight. Is this being a method writer? I don’t know.

Many among us have had conflict with our parents and how they relate, or can’t relate to who we are. If you have children yourself, particularly teenagers, your sudden role reversal may leave you feeling dizzy. Jessica Paullus has taken steps to represent these feelings in the most honest light possible in her project centered on her relationship with her mother and the dynamics of parental relationships.

In speaking about honesty and transparency in a project of something so personal, Jessica says, “I think doing work of a personal nature might help people feel less alone if they relate to a similar experience. I feel a lot of what is portrayed on social media regarding motherhood is very skewed towards what I refer to as ‘mother worship’. I see so many posts where daughters view their mother as their best friend, and I don’t have that same experience with my mother. It creates a profound sense of loneliness to think that mine is the only experience that is different, which is surely not the case. It’s a little taboo in our culture to ‘speak ill’ of one’s family,” she adds, “but I feel a responsibility to acknowledge my version of events in my relationship with my mother are only being viewed from my perspective.”

My Mother, Myself is an ongoing project with a strong foundation. Paullus views her own role as a parent as an important one, both personally and creatively. “As I have gotten older, I realize what people mean when they say to create things from your own seemingly ordinary experience, and the power that it can have.” Sally Mann and Cindy Sherman are two influences who Jessica lists being important to her work. Mann and Sherman both explore aspects of a woman’s ‘role’ both as a parent and in that of an ‘expected’ persona of a woman in society. There is a perception of how one should be in their adulthood, and the actuality of how one makes their way into adulthood. Often the two are in opposition to each other, or when they do line up, it can present the question: What if I had chose a different path? Who would I have become… what if? My Mother, Myself explores this raw territory and exposes wounds.

In her application of different photographic techniques, Jessica conveys an inward exploration of self. “It’s really meant to portray a kind of questioning of reality and perception,” she says. “Is how I feel or how I remember things the true reality? How does one know with certainty?” This project contains a number of images which evoke memories of childhood by showing the viewer images of seemingly ordinary scenes which comment on the psychologic layers of memory. Jessica uses techniques like multiple exposure in a number of her images in the project. Much like Duane Michals’ groundbreaking photographic work centered on storytelling, this ‘simple’ technique is most effective when it merely looks simple. Superimposing an image with another marries the two into an entirely new context. New meanings are inferred, and the layers of memory are analogous to the layers of image. Jessica employs this technique to fuse multiple generations within her family and ponders the question of influence and support that family can provide, or not provide.

In trying to break a cycle of habits and patterns, exploring the rationale for abuse or neglect might gain insight or self awareness to impart meaningful change. The best way to change might be getting the feel of the role in order to intuitively make better decisions and move forward. Is this method parenting? I don’t know.

From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus


From ‘My Mother, Myself’ © Jessica Paullus

Jessica Paullus is a fine art photographer and writer currently based in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Jessica is most interested in exploring through her work the effects of psychological trauma on the individual and how these experiences affect the perception of the self, memory and relationships with others. To learn more about her work, visit her website at

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Peter Ydeen @ Sykes Gallery, Millersville University

Peter Ydeen: Easton Nights
September 14 – October 15 2020

Easton Nights is a story about small town America as told by Peter Ydeen’s night photography. The Lehigh Valley, where Easton lies, has close to a million people but almost no real downtown; but instead a sea of small towns which have grown together. It has its own personality, serving as a living museum of small town Americana.

Sykes Gallery, Millersville University
Breidenstine Hall, 46 E. Frederick Street, Millersville, PA
For further information please call 717 871 7249

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Oscar Marzaroli @ Street Level Photoworks

Oscar Marzaroli
10th September – 20th December 2020

“Oscar Marzaroli is arguably Scotland’s most notable documentary photographer. His photographs and films of Glasgow from the 1950s through to the 1980s captured a period of enormous change with images of people going about their lives in the city, at work and at leisure.”

Street Level Photoworks
Trongate 103
Glasgow G1 5HD

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Doug Fogelson @ Bert Green Fine Art

© Doug Fogelson

Doug Fogelson: Dissolution
September 12 – October 24

Reception: September 12 | 2 – 6 PM

“Dissolution is a series of photographic works that employ chemical alteration on the film of a landscape or nature image, and transform it, leaving an image that falls somewhere between representation and abstraction. The mind naturally seeks to identify distinct imagery, but here, that impulse is gently thwarted, directing the eye away from instant recognition.”

Bert Green Fine Art
8 S. Michigan Ave.
Suite 620

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Barbara Diener @ Dank Haus

© Barbara Diener

Barbara Diener: The Rocket’s Red Glare
September 11 – October 23

Reception: September 11 | 6 – 8 PM

“The Rocket’s Red Glare traces the history of instrumental rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, whose story embodies the artist’s ongoing interest in the complicated German heritage surrounding WWII. A Nazi turned NASA scientist, von Braun’s life represents as much contradiction as his groundbreaking rockets do, which were used as missiles and spacecraft alike. After the war, when von Braun was brought to the U.S. under the controversial Operation Paperclip—a government initiative to secure and extract German scientists—his talents were called upon by the U.S. military. He settled in Huntsville, AL with members of his original rocket team, where they eventually developed the Saturn V and put the first man on the moon. Rather than presenting a complete view of this complex part of German-American history—classified for decades—Diener poses questions, looking at the way that history is passed on through generations, and how facts are distorted, embellished, or undermined.”

Dank Haus
4740 N. Western Ave.


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What is Home? @ Catherine Edelman Gallery

© Rubén Martín de Lucas

What is Home?
Keliy Anderson-Staley, Omar Imam, & Rubén Martín de Lucas
September 11 – October 31

Reception: September 11 | 12 – 7 PM

“The Webster dictionary defines home as “one’s place of residence; the social unit formed by a family living together; a familiar or usual setting.” If you ask most people how they define home, it is either where they currently live, or where they grew up. But for many people today, home is not always tangible, due to displacement, border restrictions, or lack of safety. What is Home? brings together three photographers who each interpret the concept of home in very unique ways.”

Catherine Edelman Gallery
1637 W. Chicago Ave.

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Alexa Frango @ Perspective Gallery

© Alexa Frango

Alexa Frango – Zoetrope: A Photographic Celebration of Celluloid Cinema
September 4 – 27

Virtual Artist Talk: September 17 | 7 PM

“During her adolescence, any ounce of free time she had was spent with movies. She read about movies voraciously, watched them at home, and immersed herself in them at her local cineplex. Films were her higher reality, the primary object of many dreams and reveries. Growing up in the era of light through celluloid, going to the movies felt like a tactile experience. She learned to spot the “cigarette burns” that signaled the end of a film reel, and she would often try to catch a glimpse of the projectionist queuing the new reel. Today, these cans of celluloid are jettisoned in favor of streaming and digital projection.

In this series, she has taken found imagery from films, along with elements of projection and household objects, and created constructed collages. The act of photographing these constructions transforms the scraps of paper and other objects, distilling the repetition, illusion, and other hallmarks of cinema they contain. The work is both a eulogy to the dying art of celluloid cinema, and a celebration of its essence.”

Perspective Gallery
1310-1/2B Chicago Ave.

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Moscow of Naum Granovsky 1920-1980 @ The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography

Moscow of Naum Granovsky 1920-1980
September 4 – October 31

“The new exhibition of Naum Granovsky’s work is a large retrospective project that combines famous photographs of old Moscow from the 20s and the Stalin era, as well as lesser-known works created by Granovsky during the period of Soviet modernism. More than a hundred of Granovsky’s works presented at the exhibition will show how the capital changed and how Soviet architecture developed over the course of sixty years. This will allow viewers not only to remember the forgotten pages in the city’s history, but also to appreciate what we are losing today.”

The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography
3, bld 1, Bolotnaya emb
Moscow 119072

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Book Review: A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century by David Acton

A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century is a survey of the history of modern photography as told through some of the past century’s most famous images and celebrated artists. The book is written by David Acton, Ph.D. He is the Milly and Fritz Kaeser Curator of Photographs at the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. The Snite Museum is considered to be one of the finest university art museums in America. Its permanent collection of 19th through 21st-century photography comprises between 10,000-11,000 photographic works.

I find this book to be a resource I wish I had as a student of photography. I personally get the most appreciation and expansive knowledge about works of art and art history when presented a blend of information about the life of the artist, a setting for the works (historic, social, political, etc.) as well as the medium itself. Photography intrinsically involves a continuous evolution of scientific improvement and advancement which enables artists to work in new ways, to explore concepts in ways not possible with former, ‘outmoded’ techniques. Acton has embraced this approach with his writing and choices for works included here.

This book highlights images I was glad to revisit, having seen them in art history books in the past. Frankly, I was not previously aware of the strength and depth of Snite Museum’s photo collection, and I am very glad to discover the caliber of images, and the attention given to making the work accessible and pertinent. To use the cliché, this book brings history alive. There are very teachable examples shown from Snite’s collection, and accessible writing which makes the technical aspects of photography simple to understand. It’s obvious that Acton has intentionally taken this pedagogical approach. Scientific advances are addressed when they are important to understand why it is important, not just for the sake of showing the author knows the technical and chemical reasons why an image was made; events important to the story of the photographer are explored in a practiced way, and cultural themes are addressed skillfully. The book is very approachable in this manner.

In my interview with David Acton, he spoke about the importance of the project thus far, (Volume 2 is currently in development) and the impetus for it. “The images in the collection are a resource for students and the university community,” Acton says. “They should have access to them, as well as the public. It’s so they can appreciate the collection, and use a resource that is specific to Notre Dame and the Snite Museum. The book should also not be blind to a general public,” Acton stresses, “Collectors and enthusiasts of photography can also get a lot from exposure to the collection and the book’s insight”. Acton humbly adds, “It’s not a book that many people would pick up, but its intent is to show that Notre Dame is serious, and their collection is strong.”

Acton has written often about art history over the years. This project is little different; he set out to highlight many of the main points of the history of 20th century photography, and come at them in ways different from how students traditionally experience art history. In the essay for each image, he gives students “the chance to see how you can approach an image in a number of different ways. One can talk about the artist, their biography, the context of their life in history, their technique, their equipment, their style, or you can talk about the story of how they find their subject”. Acton wants to squish all that together so students can discover there are many ways to express something visually and guide them through the history of photography.

While paging through the book, I encountered many images relevant to current culture, aspects of socio-political issues, and images I simply enjoyed. In particular, I noticed a wonderful paging sequence: Paul Caponigro’s “Running White Deer” on page 325 is quickly followed by Danny Lyon’s “Hoe Line” on pg. 329, then Ernest C. Withers “I Am a Man” image is on pg. 333… the echo of composition and contrast of subject matter was wonderful to encounter while making my way through the book. A strong curatorial hand is present in the layout and pace of the book. “It was by design,” Acton confides. “It was meant to make people think: If you’re confronted with a similar subject, do you treat it in s similar way, does it come out the same way, or do you look for something fresh?” The book’s intent is also to get people thinking. Engaged. Excited… about seeing images for all their possibilities. Ultimately this is a curatorial decision, no different than how one decides the pacing and presentation of what a viewer encounters in a photography exhibition in a gallery. Rather than feeling like wandering aimlessly through a collection, one should feel guided.

First and foremost, Acton writes from the perspective of a curator. The way he approaches an object is seen through this perspective. He embraces the challenge to define things that are less known, especially from a generational standpoint. He strives to make the cultural references clear, concise, and immediate through his extensive research. For example, if he was told (during his time as a college student) some particular aspect “reminds him of P.T. Barnum,” Acton explains, “then I would’ve already known what that was about”. He has done ample research about references like the October Revolution, or aspects of French history, which are not as well known to many American college students in their teens or twenties in order to make the text more accessible.

The reproductions in the book are artfully and skillfully printed. I never felt disappointed in the presentation of the images. I have been disappointed by other exhibition prints in the past, but not here. High quality printing was used to showcase these prominent works of art. A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century, is the first volume in a two volume catalogue of the museum’s entire collection, and includes works from the early years of the 20th century by Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Eugène Atget, Edward Weston and August Sander. The mid-century is represented by famous names including Jacques-Henri Lartigue,  Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Alexander Rodchenko, Berenice Abbot , and Hiroshi Sugimoto. The collection continues to expand into the present day with works by Danny Lyon, Mary Ellen Mark, Larry Clark, Sally Mann, Richard Misrach, and Abelardo Morell.

Ultimately, the strengths of this book aside, Acton feels one should see a work of art in person to really understand it. “If you look at a thousand works in person,” Acton says, “you know things that you can’t even really describe until given the chance. I feel museums should make their collections available to the general public by request – and I recommend people learn from the objects themselves. Photographic prints from film are remarkable,” Acton says with reverence and enthusiasm. “One can’t know what they’re like without seeing them in real life, there is just no comparision. You’ve got to see the real thing, and if you get excited, you’ll want to come see more.”

“The objects matter to me,” Acton concludes. “These are objects that people made with great care, and people who came afterward took great care of them, and these are objects that are valued. By appreciating the valued things from our predecessors, we can learn about culture, their lives and ideals and I think those are important things to learn.”

Magnolia Blossom 1925, © Imogen Cunningham


A Quilter c. 1930, © Doris Ulmann


Woman With Child and Lambs, 1932, © Laura Gilpin


The White Angel Breadline 1932, © Dorthea Lang


Martha Graham, Lamentation (oblique), 1936, © Barbara Morgan


Boy Leaning on a Hydrant 1940, © Helen Levitt


Beveling Armor Plate for Tanks, Gary, Indiana 1943 © Margaret Bourke-White


Triplets in Their Bedroom, NJ 1963 © Diane Arbus

Basket of Light, 1989 © Flor Garduño


Sempervirens ‘Stricta’, 1995 © Sally Mann

A History of Photography at the University of Notre Dame: Twentieth Century
by David Acton
Hardcover, 456 pages, 9.5 x 1.5 x 12.5 inches
Published by D Giles Limited

About the Author

David Acton, PhD., is the Milly and Fritz Kaeser Curator of Photographs at the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame. His experience in bringing worldwide attention to a little-known photography collection is exemplified by his catalogue and exhibition Keeping Shadows: Photographs at the Worcester Art Museum (2004)

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Mikiko Hara @ IBASHO Gallery

Mikiko Hara: ‘The Wind Cannot Be Named’
10 September – 18 October 2020

Most of Hara’s photographs capture fleeting moments: figures, landscapes and material things that emerge and disappear before her as she navigates daily life.

“There is no set theme; I’m not trying to communicate a particular message. Instead I gamble on serendipity. I hope each snapshot will stir some fragment of memory within every viewer, arousing complex feelings and emotions that can’t be easily put into words.”
— Mikiko Hara

Due to the current circumstances and regulations regarding COVID-19, IBASHO will not be able to open the exhibition with a festive vernissage on 10 September. Instead, IBASHO will open the exhibition by publishing a video on Hara’s exhibition on our website and will welcome their visitors with a festive drink in the first weekend of the exhibition 10 – 13 September during the opening hours from 14:00 – 18:00.

IBASHO Gallery

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