Monday, October 10, 2011

Jessica Ingram in One One Thousand

The latest Southern photographer to be featured in One One Thousand is Nashville (and Oakland, California) based photographer Jessica Ingram. Not quite sure how Ingram conducts a bi coastal career, but the work is good, so let that pass.

Ingram's portfolio is called Waiting for a Sign, and its about one of those great Southern topics of perennial interest, the family, or, better, one's own family. They are also about the experience of leaving home, putting distance between oneself and one's past, and then seeing if Thomas Wolfe was right about going home.

Ingram, perhaps from the perspective of California, or from the perspective of the journey that has taken her from the South to California, goes home to Grandma, and to signs, and to the rituals of Southern white working class life in gardens and funerals and churches and pathways and trailer parks.

Ingram says of her images that they are about "the division and closeness that exists simultaneously between family members," and are part of an effort "to reconnect with family members I felt distanced from," but they turned out to be about separation as well, about "complex family relationships and attempts to understand the point at which individuals who are related and connected in so many ways eventually separate."

The title of the portfolio comes from a sign about signs, like Magritte's painting of a pipe that carries the reminder that this sign is not a pipe, except the image here is of a sign that says that, unlike Magritte's pipe it is what it is and, "If you are looking for a sign, here it is."

Here the overtone is of course religious, an echo of evangelical Christianity's word play with Jesus and signs. Although I've often wondered, if Jesus is the answer, what is the question. The folks who made the sign in Ingram's image were confident they knew what the question was, and what this sign is a sign of, but it's clear Ingram isn't quite so sure.

Images here treat people but also roads and signs, or as Ingram puts it, "I am interested in the spaces in between; roads I travel connecting me to members of the family, but also the space and relation of family members to one another. These spaces are so intimate and so familiar, yet often so hard to fit into."

So these images turn out to be about making images that help one "understand the history of my family," here  the themes extend farther than the personal narrative. There is a greater narrative about the powerful nature of religious belief, and the rifts that can result, but also the strong pull to one another that can exist in families. There is a great expectation when a family is started, or expanded, and then eventually, there is a desire, even desperation, to hold onto what is being lost."

Images of course hold on, but distance. Granma (image at the top) here looks not at the camera but to where only she is going, quickly, across the frame, a little ahead of the photographer's attention.

Ingram here draws our attention to the making of this work as well as to the subjects she chooses to frame. There is a strongly personal flavor to this work, yet I suspect it will have strong resonance for those of us who grew up in similar Christ-haunted landscapes.

One One Thousand has edited Ingram's portfolio down to 15 images from the 25 that are on her website under the fuller name If You Are Waiting For a Sign, Here It Is. There may be a conversation here between the two versions of her portfolio. In any case, this is work worthy of our attention.

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