Janna Ireland brings humanity to photographing Los Angeles

Artist Janna Ireland in Eagle Rock, CA.

Artist Janna Ireland in Eagle Rock, CA.

(Carlos Jaramillo / For The Times)

This story, as told by Elisa Wouk Almino, is part of Image #11, “Innovation”, where we explore the architecture of everyday life – and what it will look like when discovered. remove all. Read the full issue here.

For me, it started as a fascination with the device. It just happens everywhere all the time. I think the first time my dad taught me how to use a camera, I was about 5 years old. I played with his lights and took pictures around the house. But then I got serious about it when I was about 13 and he showed me how to redo everything and start from there.

I can’t think of a particular photo as a turning point for me, but I did have an experience. I majored in writing at an arts high school, and in Pennsylvania there used to be something called the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of the Arts. I thought I was going to apply in writing, but then I decided, you know, “I write all year in school, why don’t I try something else?” and applied to photography. Doing that five-week program was when I realized that I wanted to really dedicate my life to photography. I think what really drew me into it – aside from the fun of being able to create an image and then look at it later – was working in a dark room, which can be a kind of magical experience for me. People. It’s for me.

For me, photography is a way to see the world and feel comfortable in the world and make myself a part of it. Home is probably the most consistent theme in my work. I moved a lot during my 20s – everywhere was temporary. I haven’t felt like I have a home in a long time, so that’s something I’ve always been looking for, and maybe that’s why I’ve become so interested in other people’s ways of life. I care about everyone. Even when I photograph architecture, what interests me is the human story.

Janna Ireland at home at Eagle Rock.

Janna Ireland says: “Home is probably the most consistent theme in my work.

(Carlos Jaramillo / For The Times)

In the summer of 2016, architect Barbara Bestor emailed me and told me that there really wasn’t a single piece of art about Paul Revere Williams’ career. When people talk about Paul Revere Williams, they talk about the fact that he was the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects, the first Black member of the AIA, and the first Black to receive the Medal of Honor. AIA Gold chapter, it’s all really important but it’s a simple way to describe him and his work. Going beyond this idea of ​​his – being the first Black architect to do all these things differently – he was a brilliant architect and a brilliant businessman who really success in his work at a time when that was far from guaranteed. He is just a unique individual and someone who continues to be interesting to me as a human being.

I began photographing most of his residential buildings, as well as his public buildings, for an exhibition held at Woodbury University. That gig was at the end of 2017. But then I just kept doing the work. Art Papers magazine sent me to Las Vegas to photograph some of his work there. Meanwhile, I wrote an essay on the project, which resulted in a book being published. The work I did in Nevada was seen by Carmen Beals, who is now curator of the Nevada Museum of Art, and she saw the work which led to the Nevada Museum giving me a more photo session of the work. His work is there. I finished it earlier this year, and now I’m preparing for an exhibition of that work. It opens in July, and in December it will go to the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas.

Williams’ work has brought me to travel around Los Angeles in a way that I wouldn’t have, and through the work I’m really interested in the history of Los Angeles – in how it came to be and how it feels. its true sense. living here.

When I was growing up, my grandma lived in LA Growing up in the 90s, it felt like LA was very culturally outstanding – whether it was because of interesting, fascinating cultural things or things like uprisings. after the Rodney King verdict or the OJ Simpson Trial. LA has always been a part of my consciousness. When I get here, I continue to love it, both for the city itself – the way it sets up the architecture, the landscape – and for the sense of community that I feel as an artist. Even though I lived in New York for a total of nine years, I found the arts community to have really closed down. But it doesn’t feel that way here.

My husband has quite a family here; His mother grew up here, and his grandfather lived in a large house in Encino. When my husband and I moved to LA, we started visiting Grandpa often to watch Lakers games and have a late breakfast. I am really interested in the house as a subject. The idea, at first, was to photograph myself in the house, and then to photograph myself as someone who could live in that house. To me, it’s the kind of palace that I feel is completely unlike the house I grew up in West Philly. In those pictures, I’m pretending to be someone with this status or power that I didn’t have, or that I didn’t have at the time. The work that became my MFA thesis project at UCLA, “The Spotless Mirror” (2011-13). After my children were born, I started taking pictures of them there. I thought of them as people who were born into a family that had that house, and who had a really different connection to this place. That project, “Milk and Honey” (2018 – ongoing), is about a fictional version of my family.

Personal show by artist Janna Ireland, "Tender Boughs," opens June 4 at Council_st in Historic Filipinotown.

Artist Janna Ireland’s solo performance, “Tender Boughs,” will open June 4 at Council_st in Historic Filipinotown.

(Carlos Jaramillo / For The Times)

Adrian is 6 years old and David is 4. Both are extremely active, extremely curious. Both are very smart and funny. But they are also really different from each other. Adrian is interested in stories, whether it’s on television, whether it’s movies, whether it’s books – his whole job is to hear and create stories. David, he’s like, I can pitch him a tent in the backyard and he’ll live here. He will never get bored. He will never need to enter the house. He will just happily look for rocks and bugs all day.

“Family Album” Performance Hosted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art includes four of my projects, including “Tender Boughs,” which is work that I did from home, which started during the most isolated part of the pandemic and that I am still working on. The work is mainly portraits of my children but it also includes isolated gestures. It includes things like toys or little corners in our homes. A solo performance of “Tender Boughs” will also open June 4 at Council_st in Historic Filipinotown.

For a long time, I felt that if I were to take pictures at home with my family instead of these carefully staged and really well-lit versions of family photos, maybe I won’t be taken seriously. I worry that if I try to do it, it won’t be interesting to other people. I want to focus on my children as they really are. I want to consider their relationship to each other. I am an only child, and sibling relationships are extremely appealing to me. It became a way to look at how they played together, how they fell in love and how they were growing and changing every day.

I think having kids makes me feel urgent about my job. It became really important for me to get this or that. In order for me to be able to devote all the necessary mental and physical energy to my children, I must also be able to do this all the time. “Tender Boughs” is the work that I did when I was in real trouble. You know, we’re all stuck at home, and I have all these things that I want to do that I can’t, or I have to do in a modified way because I have to stay home. And because I had to take care of the kids all the time, work became a really important distraction for me.

In one of my favorite early photos from when I first started working, I was standing on the second floor of the house we lived in at the time and photographing my children playing in the backyard through the window. . There’s a way they can change when my camera comes in, gets quieter, or gets more serious. And this photo is really special to me, because they don’t know I’m there. One of my other favorite images is of my older son hugging my younger son. You can’t see their faces completely but you can see that my eldest son is frowning. I don’t remember what’s going on with him at the moment but he just feels things so deeply, and for whatever reason, it has become so important to give his brother this hug.

Then there is a kind of side project related to my relationship with them. For example, in the program “Family Album”, there is a section called “Mothering”, which is all the photos in the content of the work that I appear in, in one way or another, but I really want to focus. into the children.

The photo “Diamonds and Pearls” (2012) in the studio of Janna Ireland.

The photo “Diamonds and Pearls” (2012) in the studio of Janna Ireland.

(Carlos Jaramillo / For The Times)

When I was taking pictures in college, pretty early on, I had a sense that I wanted to photograph myself. I have watched the work of Black artists using themselves in their work, such as Carrie Mae Weems and Renee Cox, and was truly moved by the way they used themselves in their work. And I feel that I want to be able to do that too. But I’m very shy. I worry that people will think that if I take pictures of myself that it’s somehow about vanity, when it’s about feeling wanted to be seen, that’s not the same. So in my early pictures I was usually very small or cropped in some way. Technically, I can see but can’t really be seen. And it became something that I had to really work on. Being a character or a different version of myself allows me to photograph myself in a new way. It gives me a distance to see them as pictures of myself.

So I can say that the pictures that I appear in “Tender Boughs” are mine – they are me interacting with my kids authentically, though of course that’s kind of mediated. camera space. But it’s me in my actual clothes, in my actual home, experiencing real moments with my family. I’m probably in my 30s doing this job. I’m just a more relaxed person now.

My family and I just moved into this house with the hope that it will be our home for a long time. There was never a place where I could have all my things together, where I had a studio space. I have a studio space here, which is awesome. Everything feels so temporary, and now I’m starting to feel really stable, and that’s exciting. LA feels like home to me.

More stories from Images

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/image/story/2022-05-18/architectural-photographer-janna-ireland-on-paul-williams-interior-life-art-human-story Janna Ireland brings humanity to photographing Los Angeles

Russell Falcon

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