Interview with Jane Fulton Alt: Photography as Poetry

Jane Fulton Alt, fine art photographer, expresses her photographs as a poet writes poetry, with a captivating sense of artistry, fluidity, and grace.

Jane Fulton Alt from Chiapas series
Chiapas Series. Courtesy of the Artist.

ArtStyle: Could you talk a little about your background and how you became a fine art photographer?

Jane Fulton Alt (JFA): I started my practice as a fine art photographer about 18 years ago after I had launched my family and had a very established clinical social work practice. I began by taking classes at the Evanston Art Center. I happened to have a really gifted teacher, Richard Olderman, who taught by asking more questions than giving answers. I discovered the poetic language of photography.

ArtStyle: What’s the difference between the type of photography that you do as opposed to photojournalism?

JFA: I suppose my photography is more expressive and some of it is much more personal and subjective than photojournalism. I've never tried to be objective with the camera, but have used the medium to express what is most central to my life and also universal to mankind.

ArtStyle: How do you choose the subjects you want to photograph?

JFA: It seems like the subjects choose me. I go through life and various subjects come into my field of vision. There's an attraction to the idea or the subject, and I just start to explore.

ArtStyle: How do you prepare for your photography sessions?

JFA: It's only until very recently that I actually prepare and know what I will be doing before I start. In the past, I would go out with my camera and be visually drawn to something or someone and just shoot. My contact sheets were like a visual stream-of-consciousness diary. It was from these contact sheets that I was able to more fully articulate about what I was exploring. More recently, I've had an idea and consciously set out to fulfill the vision.

ArtStyle: Could you talk about the Illinois Arts Council 2007 Artist Fellowship Award and the Ragdale Foundation Fellowship Award?

JFA: The award for the Illinois Arts Council was for the Katrina work in Louisiana (Look and Leave). I plan to use the award to continue my trips down to the Lower Ninth Ward and continue working on the Mourning Light series by photographing in Buenos Aires at the Center for Detention and Torture, where roughly 30,000 people disappeared from 1976-1983. I hope to use the time at the Ragdale Fellowship to explore the qualities of light and encaustics. I've never had a period of two weeks uninterrupted to work on my art, and I'm looking forward to see what happens in such an environment.

ArtStyle: Could you comment on some of the images that you have photographed?

Jane Fulton Alt Footprints
Footprints. Courtesy of the Artist.

Look and Leave
This project grew out of having witnessed the aftermath of an unprecedented and devastating natural disaster. As a clinical social worker, I spent two weeks providing care and comfort to the survivors of Katrina, a deadly hurricane that passed through the south in August of 2005. The stories I heard had one thing in common: they were all heartbreaking. These images are my attempt to describe what I saw. I hope these images will ensure that the survivors will not be forgotten.

Jane Fulton Alt Sacred Heart Series
Sacred Heart Series. Courtesy of the Artist.

Matters of the Heart
This work began as a result of having visited a slaughter house in Louisiana in 1997. Having watched the slaughter of a pig was very traumatic. The result of all of this was the creation of two self portraits, Sacred Heart #1 and #2. The pig heart is the same size as the human heart, and I decided to use it as a metaphor for love and faith.

Jane Fulton Alt from Mourning Light series
Mourning Light Series. Courtesy of the Artist.

Mourning Light
I received an out-of-the-blue invitation to exhibit in Poland, which I accepted. I would have never chosen to go there on my own as it is such a dark period of human history. I did visit Auschwitz on a cool, overcast day in March. At the end of the day I felt an urgency to visit the gas chamber. With the darkness enveloping me, I felt desperate to find any light in that space. I photographed every inch of that room looking for some ray or hope or light.

The Mourning Light series will be exhibited at the Catherine Edelman Gallery on June 8, 2007, opening 5-7 pm, 300 West Superior Street.

Jane Fulton Alt Emily in Water
Emily in Water. Courtesy of the Artist.

On Womanhood
This project has been years in the making. Over time I have photographed my daughters, their friends, and women I have known who have been pregnant. I love being a woman and feel that these images celebrate the female body and procreation.

Jane Fulton Alt Visitations Series
Visitations Series. Courtesy of the Artist.

This work was inspired by some paintings I saw while sitting in a church. When initially asked to speak about the work, I had great difficulty, as the work expressed a feeling I had that was very difficult to put into words. As time passed, I feel the work has more to do with the inexpressible, the feeling of awe and the mystery of life.

For more of Jane Fulton Alt's photographs, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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