An Interview with Jennilee Marigomen
In a city like Vancouver that is renowned for its photography, it takes something really special to catch our eye in this crowded arena. Jennilee Marigomen’s work looks at what much photography produced in this city does: urban spaces, as well as our relationship with and the tension between the natural world and the built environment. But her images contain a blatantly beautiful poetic whimsy, as well as the sense that you are privy to a moment which is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary, distinguishing her from the pack. Although Jennilee works with found scenes, stumbling upon what she captures with her lens, her photographs are rigorous in their formal qualities of composition, and painterly in their balance of form and colour as well as her masterful portrayal of light. Last year, she released her first book/blue zine, Seconde Nature with Paris based publisher, Je Suis une Bande de Jeunes, and she was also named The Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Emerging Photographer. Jennilee graciously answered a few questions about her practice for us:
Here and Elsewhere: How did you find your path to photography? Was it always something that interested you? When did you start taking pictures?
Jennilee Marigomen: In high school, I joined the Photo Club (which consisted of myself and two other girls) and learned how to use a 35mm camera. Instantly, I was drawn to the serenity of the dark room. Through the darkness, CBC Radio was playing softly as a backdrop to the noise of a fan drying negatives, the splashing of the developing fluid, and the occasional buzzing of the timer. I was completely captivated by images slowly appearing on the paper under the developer. I often stayed until the school janitor would ask me to leave so that he could lock up. I stopped for a bit after high school to focus on my studies in fashion. Several years later, I bought a digital camera for my day job. I took a few photography night courses to learn how to use my digital camera and gained an interest in art photography – which led me back to 35mm photography, full circle. That was about three years ago.
HE: Vancouver has such a specific quality of light – has that influenced your work at all? We love your use of light – can you tell us a bit about how you use it in your work?
JM: I do think that Vancouver has a specific quality of light. Its natural elements cast beautiful wavering shadows on its urban environments. Because the days are shorter here, the light is always moving. There will be times where I will see the light hitting something perfectly outside of my house, go inside to grab my camera, and come back out to see that the lighting is gone, the moment lost. That feeling makes light feel precious.
The lack of light in the Pacific Northwest makes me appreciate it more. I am very sensitive to shorter daylight hours and Vancouver’s overall lack of light, and working indoors during office hours doesn’t help. When the sky is clear and the sun is shining, it feels like a breath of fresh air. I feel revitalized. In David Horvitz’s book “Everything That Can Happen In A Day”, he presents a project that says “On a day the sky looks especially nice, show your admiration by releasing a balloon with a rose tied to the end of the string up into the clouds.” I guess in a way, my photography is showing an admiration to the sun, and light.
HE: For your own work, outside of commissioned photoshoots, do you work primarily with found scenes rather than composed ones?
JM: Yes, found scenes are the heart of my photography. If I could shoot one thing for the rest of my life, it would definitely be things I come across along the way. I do a lot of walking by myself while listening to music. That is when I am the most perceptive and in-tune with my surroundings. Walking is a very important part of my work.
I remember this one day last year when I was walking home from my carpool after work on a Friday. It is normally a 10 minute walk. There was a beautiful sweet light coming through the trees during “golden hour” and I had my camera with me. I was in a pensive mindset the right music was playing in my headphones, and I was taking everything in. It felt meditative. I walked down the street and took photos of everything, for nothing in particular. The sounds of leaves rustling mixed with the camera shutter, the smells, the feeling of the wind on my skin. I was so engrossed in the moment and let my instincts take over. I wasn’t anywhere special – just a few blocks from home walking along a residential sidewalk, with an occasional passerby. It took me three hours to get home. It was perfect.
Most of my photography work happens through intuitive observation and happenstance. While shooting, I am usually not looking to make work for a specific project. I try to stay as open as possible and look at things in a non-judgmental way.
HE: Can you tell us a bit about the influences on your work? What other artist’s work interests you?
JM: I am drawn to the subtleties and displacement within nature and urban environments, which is easily accessible and abundant here.
I am also influenced by the subtle elements of humor in my environment. Vancouver is a place where there is an ongoing tension between urbanity and natural intervention and vice versa. It is a mix of funny, sad, and bittersweet. I feel that way when I look at my photos.
I also really like abstractness. This quote by Uta Barth is really nice: “I am interested in getting you to engage in looking rather than losing your attention to thoughts about what you are looking at. Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees is the title of Robert Irwin’s biography.” I appreciate how abstract qualities bring depth and mystery to an image. My friend Seth Fluker, also a photographer, does this impeccably.
Some of my favorite photographers include Jason Fulford, Wolfgang Tillmans, Luigi Ghirri, Anders Edström, Ali Bosworth, and Jason Nocito.
HE: We really appreciate those thoughts on your work Jennilee – thanks!