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.
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.
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 😉