Jennifer Rhoades Interview
Tell us a little about yourself:
I am an air force brat. My dad was in the military up until the cusp of my teens so we did a lot of moving. Those years were primarily in the West–Washington state, California, Colorado, and then we moved to the South. I was always drawing, listening to music, creating things, living in imaginary worlds, a voracious reader, but I think I was no different than most kids in that respect. I just never grew out of it.
I have always loved music passionately and devoted most of my young years to piano. In my teens, I happened to see a ballet and it was like a fever got in my blood to dance and I stopped everything else to commit myself fully to this all consuming passion. I had done some painting in high school, even sold some work, but ballet was it for me. It wasn’t until my late 30’s that I began to take pictures–more out of necessity because I had a small ballet company with zero money and had to create all the posters, programs, etc. by myself!
There is no age limit on how long you can create art work. For performing as a dancer, there most certainly is.
After seeing what you could do with photos, I was hooked. Since then, there has been a continual transitioning into photography. There is no age limit on how long you can create art work. For performing as a dancer, there most certainly is.
As for what I like to do when I’m not creating art, I’m usually teaching ballet classes, choreographing for our pre-professional ballet company, and running rehearsals. There is keeping up with the business end of the art work–a time eater for sure. There isn’t much time for anything else!
When did you first begin to make art?
I made a lot of bad art when I was child (a dog by a fireplace, a clown) but I did a lot of drawing and a little painting. I didn’t think I was so much different from artistically inclined children but I did get accepted into a public school art program for selected students.
It was interesting, learning some new techniques, but it wasn’t a fire in my belly at all. As my interest in music grew, my interest in drawing and painting waned considerably. My heart simply was not in it.
I put everything in cold, cold storage and left it there for years. In my late 30’s, the camera warmed it all back up again!
I also took art in high school every year and loved it then. I still wasn’t remotely serious about it but I knew I had abilities. I loved painting but I was never sure if it was really good or not–even after selling a few pieces by request. There simply wasn’t enough time for it, either. Ballet demands everything from you–all your time and your whole soul. To even say everything else was put on the back burner would not even describe it. I put everything in cold, cold storage and left it there for years. In my late 30’s, the camera warmed it all back up again!
But…I was still making art. Just through my body or on other dancers. Dance and music has always informed my art work. I learned of composition through choreography. These elements are everywhere in visual art, moving or still. Dance is still informing my photography work…and I am beginning to understand things that are missing that I want to implement that brings those elements of moving poetry into that single, still frame.
When did you first start using Photoshop and how did you learn?
My first program was actually called Photo Draw. Archaic and ridiculous now, but had I started out with Photoshop, I think I would have quit entirely. I really learn referentially. I need something to compare it to for understanding to come and Photoshop was entirely too abstract for me initially. Photo Draw was fairly easy to follow, quite intuitive, and it was really all I needed to begin to see what you could do with photos. Up until then, the only photography I was even remotely aware of was in fashion magazines, National Geographic, and Dance Magazine. Of the three, I only was interested in Dance Magazine and that was my only exposure to photography. What a wonderful world I fell into when I went on Deviant Art to find the wonderful world of fine art photography and photo manipulation! I had NO idea! New fire! By then I had graduated up to Corel’s Paint Shop Pro–much more affordable and more intuitive. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally got Photoshop. I struggled for a few months and kept going back to Corel Paint Shop out of sheer intimidation, but when it finally began to click, I never looked back. I never received any formal training. I had to figure it out on my own. I do watch some tutorials on youtube but I still like to make my own discoveries and find my own way of doing things. I’m sure there are always better ways to get to the same place, but it’s what works for me.
What inspires you?
Just about everything–anger inspires, rejection inspires, love inspires, just about every feeling on the map inspires me– to create. I am such a neophyte in this new world of art after so many years on the stage and dance studio that it all inspires me. I’m like a newborn.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Of course, Brooke Shaden. Her work was the very first thing I saw in the way of fine art photography. She is the one that woke all of that up in me–a revelation! Since then, I have certainly expanded in my scope and admiration, to say the least. I could write you entire lists as I admire so many people but I’ll just name a few for the sake of brevity. I love Kyle Sparrek, TJ Drysdale, Jessica Drossin, Magdalena Russocka, Marcela Bolivar, Lente Scura, Agnieszka Lorek, Sina Domke, Daria Endreson, Jena DellaGrottaglia, and I could really just go on and on. I admire so many artists for so many kinds of work and there is so much spectacular art out there. Entire universes of inspiration that goes on and on…
…eventually in the process it gets a mind of its own. Like a baby in the womb, it is its own–it came from you, drew sustenance from you, but it is its own.
What is your typical process when creating a piece of art?
I used to just start out with a sense,a mood, or a feeling and try to find it, what the sense said, while I was processing the photos. The results tended to be happenstance. When I first started, that’s just what I went with and that was enough because I was still just playing around and just discovering and developing. Also, when I first started, I had a terrible time distilling an idea into a single picture. I see things in movement. In my world, emotions are shown through steps, movement, gesture. To distill all of that into a singular moment of stillness just seemed impossible for me to wrap my mind around. I still see things in movement because I don’t have to convey it all. Sometimes a nuance is enough…sometimes more than enough. I have ideas of what I’d like them to be, but the more I try to do that, the worse it gets, at times. I’ve learned to go with the flow of what is happening. I’ve learned that even with choreography through the years. Some choreographers enter the rehearsal knowing exactly, precisely what they want and proceed to transfer it directly to the dancers without a single deviation. Some choreographers come in with an idea, a basic skeleton, and add everything else in the moment, inspired by the dancers with them at that moment. I am of the latter sort and I can say that is certainly how I am about my art work. There is certainly a vast evolution as I create and I just keep working and shaping it until I feel that it is beautiful and creates a mood for the viewer. One thing that I can say about creation–eventually in the process it gets a mind of its own. Like a baby in the womb, it is its own–it came from you, drew sustenance from you, but it is its own.
Where do you get your source materials from?
The stock I use might be a small thing, a bird or a butterfly, and I definitely like using textures but everything else is mine. I spend a small fortune on props and costumes, mostly do the hair, makeup, and styling myself. I am, for the most part, a one woman show. More and more, I am thinking ahead and taking pictures of random objects, skies, textures, and adding them more but if it’s 4 AM and I’m nearly finished with a work and I need a bird and no bird is to be found in my files, to the stock market I go! Why not?
What is your favorite Photoshop trick/method at the moment?
I can never seem to do the same thing twice so it’s hard to say. Once I started to really grasp layers, I went layer crazy–up to 80 layers at the same time! Now I merge them more frequently when I’m sure that is an element I want that I know I will not change my mind about. Photoshop does so much and I have barely even chicken scratched the surface!
I had to get my hair chopped off after that shoot– ruined by putting clay and wire in it. Yes, I did that.
What is your favorite Photoshop tool or plugin at the moment?
What work of your own are you most proud of?
It’s a toss up between Ghost of the Revolution and Going Home. Going Home has all the winsome longing that mostly connects to me emotionally–a wistful romanticism that is most close to me and who I am. It is a true self-portrait. Ghost of the Revolution is one that I just found to be out and out cool! I had to get my hair chopped off after that shoot– ruined by putting clay and wire in it. Yes, I did that. There was no fixing my hair after that so it had to be chopped off. I loved my long hair so I suffered for my art!
I’m also proud of the pieces I created that forced me to grow. Some of them were not well received but I am still proud of them, even if it’s just for some successful elements. There have been pieces that I’ve spent untold hours on, scrapping half of it, starting over, not knowing how to make something happen and figuring some facsimile out to make it work, the frustration, the small triumphs when something was successful or discovered. I look at it and I’m proud of it because I know what was gained in the process.
What are you currently working on?
I’m doing two projects right now and won’t be releasing them until they are both complete. The second project is still in the shooting stages and is only half done in that stage–there’s a lot to put together for them. The first one is about a third done in the post processing stage. The shooting for the first one was at the beginning of August so it’s taking a very long time. I am hoping the results will be worth it. Both projects I decided to do to push myself to grow so there’s a lot of failing and crying and pulling out the rest of my shortened hair. However, I am learning new things on many, many levels. The first one is called “The Woman Who Hid Behind the Moon.” The second is based on concepts of power. When I am learning new things, there is a phase of incoherence and I am in that phase–processing without quite understanding what I am processing.
“The Woman Who Hid Behind the Moon” is about a horrible time in my life when I wanted to escape so badly and I was having these longings to just walk on the stars to the moon and hide behind it forever. I have a sense of what I am doing with the ones about power but I am still shaping it and words have not quite surfaced yet.
What would you tell someone who is starting out making Photoshop art?
There are no rules. Art is yours. When I first started all of this, I was criticized mightily that what I was doing was not photography, but then it wasn’t digital art, and some of it wasn’t manipulated enough to be really considered manipulation. I say let the critics flap their lips all day. Do what you want and find your own path. You don’t have to fit under anyone’s neat little label. If you want to make a giraffe that lives in a balloon on the Arctic Shelf, I say do it.