Thursday, August 7, 2008

A Conversation with Jessica Ingram

In the past many photographers worked abroad. Jessica Ingram is part of a new generation of artists that work at home and who again tell American stories. Her work is deeply motivated by her interest in people.

GrandmaRose & Untitled from the series Hilltop High © Jess Ingram

NP: Tell us a little about yourself.

JI: I was born in Nashville, Tennessee and raised between Nashville and Knoxville. I received degrees in Photography and Political Science from NYU, and my MFA from California College of Arts and Crafts. I now live in New York, but spend much of the year in the Southeastern United States, making work and spending time with my family.

Dinner, Mamma's Glo
© Jess Ingram

NP: How did you discover photography and what inspires you?

JI:I can't remember when I first started photographing, but I was young. My mom got me a Kodak 110 camera, and I was constantly taking photographs of my family, where I lived, places I visited. I remember thinking of photography as a way to remember things that were important to me, whether that was my sister, my dog, or my 6th grade trip to Washington, D.C., for example. I am a people person, and inspired by peoples' stories. I do not remember who wrote it, but I once read "Who will tell the lives of ordinary people," and it has always stuck with me. I am interested in stories, choices people make, and a person's or a community's day to day life.

NP: You earned degrees in photography and political science. Where does your interest in social science stem from?

JI: Specifically, I don't know. Both of my parents were social workers and my father became a journalist. I was encouraged to be part of community. Through these influences, and through teaching, I am interested in using photography to answer questions and get to know and understand people, whether it's people in my family, or strangers. I'm also interested in history, and thinking about the stories and history in landscapes, most recently, in the American South.

Atop Stone Mountain & Medgar Evans' Backyard, Jackson Mississppi, 2005
© Jess Ingram

NP: You were born in the South and continue to spend time there with family. Your series “A Civil Rights Memorial” confronts the history of South. What has the reception been of this project, particularly in the South?

JI: Overall, the reception has been wonderful. I am learning more and more about the history every time I talk to people. There's always another site and another story. I want there to be conversation about the sites, or people's experiences during the Civil Rights Movement to present day. The interactions with people have been one of the most interesting, exciting, and difficult parts of this project. At times, people have been angry, or have not wanted to talk to me, or have me photograph. I have always tried to have conversation with them, and in most cases, they were frustrated by the media's representation of the American South, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. For the most part, once I explain why I am interested, they are extremely helpful about directing me to the specific places I am looking for. It's a sensitive issue. Many feel defensive, many feel exploited, and almost all feel that there is still a lot of work to be done in communities around issues of race and class, and how they are manifested in daily life, through housing, education, jobs, etc.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been amazing to repeatedly welcome me to their offices in Montgomery and grant access to their resources there. Their hospitality has been invaluable to this project.

Untitled from the series Hilltop High
© Jess Ingram

NP: Where can we see the video interviews you conducted for Hilltop High?

JI: The video interviews are in process. Raised as a photographer, my video skills are coming along. It is a very different way of working as well, which is exciting, but taking me a minute to get comfortable with. I work on all of my projects for a very long time, probably too long. I keep learning new things about people or places I'm photographing, and as long as the material is developing and engaging, I keep working. It's important to me to feel that I know what story I'm telling before I put it out to the public.

Love is the Greatest
© Jess Ingram

NP: What’s next?

JI: The idea of next is exciting. Next involves wrapping up Hilltop High and A Civil Rights Memorial. I feel that both projects are meant to be books, so I am working on book dummies now. (Though I just discovered some more Civil Rights sites through research, which I want to visit and hopefully add to the project...) I have some new ideas that are primarily based in East Tennessee and other parts of the South, and have started shooting there. I keep a book of ideas, and I keep going.

NP: Thank you so much!

To See more of Jessica's work visit her website and also take a look at the site of ©ause Collective -- -- a collaboration between different artists that Jessica is a contributing to.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Loving Humanity is like a tree in the middle of a forest catching on fire; ... how can the other trees resist!"