Briefly describe the work you do.
I make digital photographs, most often focusing on landscapes, both urban and rural. Most recently, I’ve been engaged in a continuing project entitled “cinephile.” This series of diptychs and triptychs is heavily influenced by my lifelong interest in classic film. I’ve been honored to hear that these images recall the 1930 and 40s genre, film noir. In each piece, I intend to engage a memory evoking the sentiment of particular place and time. A feeling of nostalgia set firmly within our present surroundings. I make these images with a Smartphone application; some are adjusted in post-production.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up entranced by visits to see classic films at a tiny movie theater called the Gallery Cinema in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee. My mom and I always sat in the front row to absorb black and white comedies directed by Frank Capra and crime dramas like The Maltese Falcon. The cinema’s owner collected old film projectors and stories about the classic films. These pursuits fit perfectly with my burgeoning interest in history and what is now referred to as “the built environment.”
Milwaukee is my hometown. With the project “cinephile,” as well as my other photographs, I intend to highlight personal connections to physical places, depict how our surroundings describe our collective history, and explore the role that familiar landscapes play in defining personal stories.
In my work, my goal is to depict the essential emotions created by living within a post-industrial Midwestern city’s history and defining architecture. The images in “cinephile” use the impact of light and shadow, as well as carefully constructed composition, to establish recognizable connections to and memories about places.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
While I currently have a rather traditional studio space, I use it mostly for framing, presenting, and displaying my photography. The essential work of making images is done on the road––whether walking in cities and towns or hiking elsewhere––with my camera or Smartphone. I select and edit the images on my laptop, which is also mobile. The substance of my artwork takes place as I form project ideas and consider photographs to print and display. This part of the process takes places everywhere, very similar to how the images are made in the first place. So, the contempoary version of my studio is any place that I have time to think, very frequently in my car during my 50-minute long commute, or again, while walking around the city.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I began making photographs in high school, I envisioned becoming a photojournalist. An internship after college at a local daily newspaper in Massachusetts began taking me in that direction as did a job a photographer’s assistant. It turned out, that I preferred to make images on my own terms. After a pause for other day jobs and a graduate degree in business, I began making documentary photographs to assist a friend on a film project. My love for creating images was rekindled by that endeavor as well as the day job that I’ve enjoyed for a decade, a position in marketing and graphic design for the Racine Art Museum. In 2008, I dove more deeply into the local sphere of fine art photography. My images progressed alongside my interest in supporting the regional art community. Now, I’m thrilled to have become an independent curator, an arts organizer, and writer for the Art City blog at JSOnline.com as well as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Beyond my initial impetus to make photographs, my recent role is to build and reinforce our community’s creative efforts.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I make art whenever I can, shuffled in amongst my 40-hour workweek, long walks, and other creative commitments. The younger version of myself, as well as my college housemates, would be surprised to find that I’m now most productive in the morning.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
In the last few years, I’ve made mostly black & white photographs. Previously, I was mesmerized by color. My focus on dramatic use of light and shadow, and a preoccupation with balanced composition have remained the same. Throughout the last five years, there have been very few people in my photographs. This is a feature of my work that I plan to adjust in the near future.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
At the foundation of all my images are a few constant forces, Milwaukee and film. Beyond that, the people, landscapes, and culture of the Midwest have shaped my artwork. A tapestry of ideas from friends, family members, regional artists, and area art organizations has become layered into an inextricable quilt of thoughts that influence my aesthetic sense. My photographs also reference concepts of form and an appreciation for highly refined skill that are reinforced by my close daily connection to the contemporary crafts collection at the Racine Art Museum. While I do not name a specific artist, writer, philosopher, or even filmmaker, the sum total of my life experience directs my creation of art.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
As noted above, I do have another occupation. I am delighted to conceive, write, and design materials that encourage people to seek out and enjoy art. Creating photographs is a part of the process, sharing art with the community is another significant portion of the joy for me.
For the last decade, Jessica Z Schafer has worked behind, in front of, next to, and beyond the camera. An award-winning photographer, her work has been juried into many regional exhibitions. Jessica’s recent series, “cinephile” was presented as one of four Featured Member Exhibitions in 2013 at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her photography has been highlighted with a solo exhibition at Leenhouts Gallery and included in many invitational group shows throughout the Midwest. “cinephile” was featured in fall 2013 at Cathedral Square, one of the Showcase Venue at the international art competition ArtPrize 2013 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wearing many hats, Jessica is also marketing and publications manager for the Racine Art Museum, an independent curator, an arts writer for JSOnline.com and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a programming committee member for the Milwaukee Film Festival, and an artist affiliate of Plaid Tuba Productions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.