Jess Farran pushes all boundaries

Photo by Jess Ferran

Jess Farran is a photographer and art director based in New York whose compelling work crosses both physical and metaphorical boundaries. She has previously worked with Milk Makeup, Allure, Wilhelmina Models and Teen Vogue, and she also has several self-edited projects. The images she creates gravitate from nightmares, to an exploration of the body, sex and individuality, to a parallel abstract world. Read below as Jess and Andrea Mena talk about honesty and taking action nowadays, growth and creative processes, and reaching high consciousness and joining the aliens.

 

I feel like your zines have been steadily changing from a darker, perhaps more chaotic place (as in "MEATEATER") to a more dreamy and romantic subspace, in "Habibi" and other recent photographs. Do you think this has happened naturally, depending on the place you're at in every moment, or has it been a more intentional change?

Transition from the dark to the light is definitely both intentional and natural. MEATEATER was made from really dark, dormant energy. It was just kind of festering inside of me and needed to get out. A month after I made MEATEATER I fell in love and learned to let the darkness of my past subside in the darkness. I don't want to forget those really chaotic and rough feelings, but I needed to create softer, more angelic images in order to survive.

 

Do you get inspired by external reasons, other artists, or do you work from your emotions/perspective? Maybe they can go together as well? Do you feel like you have to work hard towards getting a photography the way you want it or is it more of a natural process?

I definitely am inspired by other artists but I'm never focusing on trying to replicate anyone else's work, there's no point to that. I'm mainly inspired by their approach and concept to what they're making, and I try to use that as fuel in order to make my own work. My real muse though is definitely my past. I've lived a lot of really brief, intense lives and I've dealt with a lot of trauma along the way. The only real constant in my life has been photography. Not even my family is a 100% security, which is a scary and hard realization. It's also been a freedom, though. The more you loose in life the more you realize you don't have anything distracting you from your art, it's just fuel for the fire. Shooting definitely comes naturally to me now, but I've worked very hard for a very long time to be able to get there.

 

Photo by Jess Farran

When you make a project, what do you tend to go for: a concept, an idea, an aesthetic, a diary?

It really depends. Sometimes I'll go based off of a huge concept and then the aesthetic comes after, and sometimes the concept is the aesthetic. If you don't have a concept though your project won't hold up. I had a professor that always told me if you can't explain your idea in one sentence that you don't understand it, and I think about that all the time.

 

You last zine, "Habibi", revolves clearly around the idea of love, and you have a muse for it. How has it been working with your boyfriend Gus, who's also an artist? Do you guys help each other artistically?

My boyfriend, Gus, and I are definitely two psycho artists. We're both obsessed with what we do, and it's really nice being with someone that understands that the way we live our life doesn't always make logical sense. We're definitely collaborative at times, but we really do keep our opinions to ourselves when either of us has a project that involves the other. We obviously give each other feedback and advice, but when it comes to the concept of the project we don't interfere.

 

Your photos seem kind of dreamy, un-real, romantic, abstract. Do you feel like you produce images to make them seem from this world or from another?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about reality, and I do think within the last few years I've created my own version of this world that best fits who I am. There are a lot of things I would love to change about the way our society works and how it looks, so I 100% put that vision into my work. I never really liked the word "dreamy" to describe my work, though. I actually suffer from chronic nightmares and something called "false awakenings," so if anything my work should be described as nightmarish.

 

How does one cope with your job being also your biggest hobby? Do you ever feel like it can take part of the appeal away?

Being an artist is really the only identifier I've ever had, so at this point it's impossible to separate the two. I started shooting seriously when when I was really young though, like 15. I would shoot for hours and hours a day for years in high school, so when I graduated and turned 18 I hit a wall and actually stopped shooting for a few years. It was really weird, I was still shooting professionally for work but I didn't pick up a camera for fun for a very long time. I felt like I was going through a mid-life crisis but I was still a teenager. I feel somewhat blessed to have felt that so young though, now I feel like I really know who I am and can just focus without fear of loosing passion or creativity.  

 

Photography, as every art, can also reflect the current state of the world. I've seen you portrait unconventional bodies, donate to organizations, etc. Do you feel like art and politics go hand by hand or not? What would you say is the right path to follow here?

The idea that art and politics can be separated is a really brash idea to me. Even if the art you're making has nothing to do with any sociocultural theme, it's still political. The majority of the art in museums is made by old cis white men, how is their privilege to create that work separated from the current political climate in which the work was made? To me it's not able to be separated. Art doesn't have to be innately politically and that's totally okay, it's exhausting experiencing things that have a strong message all the time. We do need moments of just pure beauty and creativity. But to think that's those things are created out of thin air by a person who has no role in the cultural hierarchy we live in is a bit ignorant.  

 

Photo by Jess Ferran

How do you feel about being a female photographer today? Have you ever had any difficult experiences in the industry because of your gender?

At this point I try not to think much about it. I had to prove my worth early in my career but at this point I'm over it. I don't let people take advantage of me and I don't work with people that aren't respectful. Learning to say "no" is the most powerful thing you can do as a woman.

 

You have been really open about your political opinions, life experiences and about social oppression on Instagram. I really appreciate that, because we need more voices like yours inspiring the youth. Would you like to give any advice to young non-binary/female photographers or just any confused folk trying to get by?

Just be unapologetically yourself. Realize that no one is going to put in the work for you so you better put it in yourself! Also: GET OFF INSTAGRAM.

 

What border would you like to transcend next? So far you've worked with some pretty amazing youthful brands but you've also self-edited your work. Do you have any preference over that? Any projects in mind?

I always have projects in mind, but right now I really want to start getting into directing. I also think I'm ready to reach high consciousness and join the aliens ;)

 

Discover more about Jess in her website or follow her on Instagram.


Blanca´s Gracia Lost Paradises

Blanca Gracia’s lost paradises

Text by Esther Cañadas

Tabú, Blanca Gracia

Blanca Gracia owns a personal universe, where she transfers beings that come from the present and, once there, he lets them interact with a fantastic environment that reveals their true identity. This is how the artist experiments with her characters the possibilities that human beings have of breaking with horror, contradictions and beliefs in ethereal utopias with a personal language full of expressiveness and vivacity.  

She depicts her concept and ideas in different formats: video art, watercolours and drawing will help her try and test –in a nearly alchemic process- until the elements create a dialogue that makes the message she wants to transmit be heard. 

Gracia has created a personal world with which to decipher and digest the reality that surrounds us. Through anthropology, philosophy and politics, she reflects on the passage of time, our society or our relationship with nature. Her universe always stems from the present, from actual, real images, that she decontextualizes to make them seem fictional. Her character are placed in exotic places, in the middle of a wild, idyllic nature, mixed with mythological or historical figures who, in the present, continually relive the same deeds of their past. It all helps to remind us that human beings still face the same miseries, utopias and contradictions. In other words: he still dreams with idyllic settings where he cans escape from the hell of his days and, stuck in a circular historic progress, he keeps on tainting his hopes with blood, hare-brained revolutions and stark brutality. Because history repeats itself thanks to ignorance and the incapacity of humans to break free from the inertia of their acts or to overcome their decadent condition. 

Gracia reflects about the human condition and, in a moment of uncertainty where solid truths are nowhere to be seen, she uses philosophy to give sense to an absurd reality that lays bare the struggle of humankind against challenges that is hasn’t manage to resolve since its origins. 

The idea of escapism, of exodus, of flight, the colonialism according to Plato, are all incarnated in contemporary individuals who flee from society towards uncivilized places where they will face new challenges: what is to be done with civic death? And in a world without a set of laws and regulations? Once the journey exploring his inner passages has finished, it is time to return to civilization, as if the journey had been cathartic and the human being had lost itself in order to find himself and be born anew. 

Sísifo, desfloramiento y Brexit, Blanca Gracia

Hay que imaginar a Sísifo feliz, Blanca Gracia

The landscapes in her works may seem candid and innocent, but they exude an irony and a symbolism full of messages with which Blanca Gracia tries to overcome the bewilderment of the world surrounding us. When her characters are expelled from the real world, when she creates and artificial context and she puts them in the company of the figures from the past, she manages to strip them down to their bare essence. So, once they have been stripped of everything that decorates them and hides what they are, they miseries and contradictions become more obvious and, by including figure from another historical context, she places them within humankind’s sad trajectory: incapable of improving, it drags itself along the same fatalities and insecurities. There are frequents allusions to do-goodery and utopias, to the natural world as a refuge to which you can flee and start anew, as a place where you can search for principles or solutions that will fail. Gracia analyses and reflects on the human condition in its most violent, absurd and primitive aspects, but leaving no traces of sadness in her work. 


Robert Mapplethorpe Universe

Robert Mapplethorpe Universe

Text by Esther Cañadas

Back in the seventies, New York was a wild, vibrant city that projected its own creative chaos towards the rest of the world. During these years, it was a frenzied city with dramatic levels of criminality and the economy in freefall. However, it was also a deeply creative metropolis of frenetic vitality, which we now see with an almost mythological halo of nostalgia. The city grew in its shuddering anarchy, open to everyone willing to go with its powerful flow. 

The largest city in America collapsed dramatically due to industrial decline and economic stagnation. The financial crisis brought budget and salary cuts, which sunk many people into poverty. They were forced to move to the suburbs, and this made New York lose 10% of its population. This decline of population aired out the city and provided a new use of the public and private spaces that encouraged creativity. The city became more egalitarian. 

New York was a shape-shifting spectacle, with something new and shocking always on the horizon. There was always something happening in every street and behind every door. It was an inspiring city where you could breathe freedom. The underground carriages were full of graffiti and food scraps. Being a New Yorker wasn’t easy, and some of them carried guns, just like gangsters. The homicide rate was three times higher than the current one, intensified by the dramatic increase of crack and heroin abuse. The power cut that left the city with no electricity for twenty-five hours in 1977, which led to looting in various districts, was a good example of this atmosphere of criminality. 

With his eclectic work, Mapplethorpe managed to link the high-life and the lowlife of the New York society like very few people did and this gained him the attention of a very varied public.

Rents were low during these years, and many artists could afford living in Manhattan. They gathered frequently to exchange ideas, even if they were strangers. The artist’s way of life was an extreme one in which art was an inner force that was projected over the artistic object. Art could express all kinds of wishes and worries caused by a sick world, and it was in fact the only way to release them. 

The cultural world was exclusive and influential but small. Its members created new trends in music, literature and art that reached the whole country. Musicians and intellectuals were highly regarded and seemed to be surrounded by a divine halo, although they were as vulnerable as everyone else in the crowded streets of the city. John Lennon, Greta Garbo and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis could be easily spotted strolling along the wild urban landscape of New York. 

This creative atmosphere lead to the emergence of many music bands and cultural movements. In the mid-seventies Max’s Kansas City had the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Sid Vicious, Klaus Nomi and Blondie amongst their regular guests. The CBGB was home for Patti Smith and Television, and we can’t leave out the famous Studio 54, Bloomsbury, the Ocean Club, the Reno Sweeny cabaret, The Other End and the Mudd Club. Andy Warhol was one of the most iconic figures of this scene, walking hand in hand with Debbie Harry. His appearances at the CBGB and other clubs recalled the golden days of The Factory. In these times anything that happened in one of these bars had influence on culture and people. In the seventies, culture was everywhere you looked at. 

The Downtown Scene was born during this years as well, with its punk music, disposable painting, body art and the theatrical chaos of LaMaMa. At the same time, the High Mandarin movement made a come-back, with personalities like Jasper Johns, Susan Sontag, Robert Wilson, George Balanchine, Robert Mapplethorpe and more. 

With his eclectic work, Mapplethorpe managed to link the high-life and the lowlife of the New York society like very few people did and this gained him the attention of a very varied public. 

Those weren’t times for refinement, with the city scarring its inhabitants. This brought the need to explore the human complexity not from complaisance but from agitation. Mapplethorpe’s language is a reflection of all that. He portrayed his circle of friends, which included artists, musicians, socialites, porn stars and members of the underground culture. The result was a bunch of impressive images that showed a masterful, impeccable technique. 

Mapplethorpe searched for homosexual topics, used porn stars as models and took elements from the sadomasochistic culture with a clear intent. He also covered some controversial subjects that the LGTB culture used later as symbols of its struggle to achieve equality and recognition. As a member of this community, Mapplethorpe worked to give a positive image of his people, with no moralistic judgements. In the pre-AIDS era, the gay people were great trendsetters. Nowadays there is a romanticized idea of the homosexuals of that time as attractive glamorous careless people, but the truth is they were raised during the oppressive years of Eisenhower and Nixon. However, the outburst of the AIDS plague changed all that drastically in 1981. 

Mapplethorpe was interested in gender ambiguity and androgyny. He extended the boundaries of the definition of gender and identity with his studies on African-American men and with a photographic essay with body builder Lisa Lyon between 1980 and 1982. Here he explored different ways of representing a woman: the goddess, the temptation, the girlfriend, etc.