Jared Collins grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, America. Graduating with a B.S.B.A. in marketing from the University of Denver in Colorado in 1993, Jared unexpectedly went into photography professionally that same year. He would eventually move on from Denver to Boston and finally to New York City where he built out a turn of the century warehouse and founded his studio. Jared’s most recent project of Balinese girls adorned in vintage ceremonial costumes is currently on exhibition at Tony Raka Art Gallery until January 23rd, 2010.
Jared, have you had the chance to see many interesting places around the world?
Indeed. Being a photographer has allowed me the opportunity to get to some amazing places. When I look back on my travels, the most memorable would have to be North Africa and the Middle East. From a photographer’s perspective, these regions are endlessly fascinating.
How did you first become interested in Bali?
In the year 2000, I learned of an Artist in Residency program at the Bali Purnati Foundation for the Arts in Batuan. In 2005, I decided to apply and was accepted to produce a project here. This was the first time I came into contact with not only Indonesia but with Asia. I spent 5 great weeks in Bali and returned home to a surprising reverse culture shock, something I have never experienced before in my travels. Within a month, I was plotting ways to get back to Ubud and move my studio over here. At the time, I was really feeling the need for a change from America and living somewhere else other than the city after more than 10 straight years.
When did you first take up photography?
I can remember taking my first photographs on a whale watching expedition when I was about 6 years old. That day turned out to be a fateful moment for me because I realized that taking pictures was something I loved and wanted to continue doing.
Did you ever formally study photography?
I’m a self taught photographer and print maker. Everything I‘ve learned was done through experimentation on my own or while apprenticing under other working photographers on a set or in studio. I never went to school to study photography. I really believe that if you have a skill or a talent, the only way to encourage and master it is to engage in it.
Which photographers have had a big influence on you?
There are three in particular that have had a major impact on my understanding of what can be done with photography and the level one can aspire to reach. First and foremost is Joel Peter Witkin – a true master artist photographer who opened my eyes to perspectives I’ve never seen or imagined before in photography. Peter Beard and Jan Saudek are two other very important influences. I’m also a collector of vintage photography and have a deep appreciation for the turn of the century portrait photographers such as Edward S. Curtis and the Hollywood glamor photography studios of the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
In the course of your career have you won any awards?
In 2005, I won several awards for my travel work in Egypt, including one from from National Geographic for a portrait that I had shot of a nomadic Bedouin woman wearing a traditional desert veil which beat out 18,800 other images in an international competition.
What’s the most important decision to make when taking a photograph?
When it comes to making portraits, the most important decision is always deciding the right look, the right atmosphere and the right concept for the right model. Preparation is the key to this. For travel and documentary photography, it’s making sure you have the right equipment at your disposal for whatever shooting situation you can imagine you might be in.
What distinguishes your work from the work of other photographers?
When I’m producing a fine art portrait, I personally style every aspect of the model, including physically making some of the costumes myself to create a unique look. But what makes my work different from everyone else is the type of manual print making that I undertake in my darkroom. Without getting too technical, I use a light sensitive liquid emulsion, then paint a piece of fine watercolor paper with this chemical and then project the negative onto it. The result is more like a hybrid of painting, drawing and photography, creating an ethereal, almost vintage look to the image. No two of my prints are ever the same and each one has it own subtleties and characteristics. Every fine art print is truly an original made by hand.
What project are you involved in now?
Right now, I’m exhibiting a project of portraits of Balinese girls at the Tony Raka Gallery in Mas, Ubud that took more than 4 years to produce. It was the longest and largest production I have worked on to date. It involved a casting process that took more than 6 months and saw over 2,600 potential models, a 4-week styling session, a marathon photo shoot that went on for 3 straight days and print making in my Ubud darkroom that didn’t finish until just days before the exhibition went up December 26th.
What inspired you to do this project?
I’ve always loved theatrical and dramatic costumes and styling and I generally include these qualities in the art work that I produce. When I was offered the residency by the Bali Purnati Foundation in 2005, I thought that shooting models in ceremonial crowns and costumes was a perfect fit for my repertoire. I returned to Bali in 2006 to continue the project I started the year before, shooting for a second time, and using much more care and control in regards to what would go into the images. This second round of shooting had far superior results compared to the first go and these are the images that are currently on display at the gallery right now.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work?
As I’ve already eluded to before, I don’t use anything digital to create my work. My fine art photography involves the use of celluloid film and manual print making. So right now the biggest challenge I face is what to do if I am no longer able to buy the film or chemicals needed to produce my work. Because of the digital revolution, manual photographic materials are becoming more and more scarce and important manufacturers of these supplies are slowly but surely going out of business one by one. Because my images can only be made in a darkroom with a negative, I could lose the ability to create artwork in the manner that I have dedicated half of my life to if there are no more materials at my disposal. A computer cannot generate my style of printing and anyone who has seen one of my original art photographs will understand why.
Do you have any future plans?
After pushing myself to physical and mental exhaustion for this show, I’m really looking forward to enjoying some time to myself again. In the new year, I’m looking forward to starting a new project of ”Objects” that will likely take about 12 months to complete. This will be a departure from how people know me as only a photographer, however I have never limited myself to just the medium of photography.
For now, all I can really say about this new project is that it will likely be the most unusual and interesting series of art I’ve every produced in my life.
For more information about Jared Collins’ work, check out his website www.jaredcollins.net to see both past and future work as well as various articles from local and international publications.
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Copyright © 2009 Al Hickey
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