Jennifer Bastian: Dane County Emerging Artist

How did you get your start in photography?

When I was around 11 years old, I started taking photos with a small 110 film camera, purple with a mint-green shutter button. I began with the things around me: the family dog, clusters of ladybugs and raspberries, lilacs, and over and over again, my family. Most of these were wildly out of focus due to the lack of control on a tiny point and shoot camera and my lack of desire to read any manual ever in my life. I continued into high school and became obsessed. It was a tool that alleviated my social anxiety, and a way to grasp onto feelings and people that I feared would disappear. I have been shooting the same model of analog film camera since 1993.

What past and present photographers inspire you?

This is such a hard question. There are far too many to list! And I’m terrible at deciding who is contemporary. But - I often come back to books by Imogen Cunningham, Walker Evans, Nan Goldin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Gordon Parks, and Jamel Shabazz. A few more that I love are Rinko Kawauchi, Carrie Mae Weems, Heather Rasmussen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Lorna Simpson, Catherine Opie, and Uta Barth.

How has photography changed since you first got started in the business?

It’s funny to think about it as a business, because I rarely concentrate on that aspect of it, even when it is how I make most of my living. I currently work full time as a photographer in a library, capturing rare books and other bound materials, and I am a freelance portrait photographer as well. Both of those fields have changed dramatically since I got into the business in around 2000. 

I will admit that the emergence of digital as the dominant form in photographic process took me a bit by surprise, and I resisted learning how to shoot, process or manipulate digital images until 2005. How embarrassing. I am mostly self-taught, which means it takes me a little longer to do certain things, or I have strange workflows, but I get the job done.

While I’ve finally embraced the digital world professionally, I still refuse to use those tools in my art practice. I prefer the surprise and mystery of film. I find that using older equipment forces me to work more slowly, value each shot more, and subjects and passersby on the street notice me less.

What would you like your viewers to get out of viewing your photos?

My hope is that people see something they connect with, that makes them feel something in their gut. If they identify or empathize with something I’m doing, then I want them to feel validated and seen. If they don’t feel that it portrays their own experience, then my hope is that they see something new about an experience they don’t normally have exposure to, and consider a different angle. I want my viewer to feel welcomed, cared for, and emotionally safe as well as challenged.

What equipment do you prefer to work with? Do you ever experiment with new equipment, styles, or effects?

I usually shoot with Canon AE-1 35mm and Yashica-D 120 film cameras. I own what feels like a million cameras, but those are the two that work and I feel the most kinship with. I will occasionally put a roll of film in an old point and shoot, but most of the time I stick to what I know. I have three of the Canon AE-1s and each of them have different temperaments…one has some predictable light leaks that I don’t always like, though they sometimes give me little positive surprises. Another AE-1 has a bit of soft focus and a broken light meter, and the other is very reliably accurate on most fronts. I transition between them occasionally, depending on how I’m feeling. One of them is usually in my bag. 

The Yashica-D replaced a pristine and downright magical Rolleflex I used to have, but that was injured beyond repair in a car accident. I pine for that Rollei, and the lens on the Yashica-D can never quite compare, but it does the trick and has its own quirks and neuroses that I find appealing.

When working as a portrait or library photographer, I generally prefer prime lenses on my DSLRs (a Canon 5D Mark iii and a Canon 5D Mark ii), and I try to keep things simple. There’s such a drive to have the fanciest and most expensive equipment, but I find that the cheap little 50mm lens is usually my favorite. 

What has your experience as a Dane County artist been like? Are there any artists in the area you have collaborated with?

I have only lived in Madison for just over a year, but I have found the art community to be an extremely welcoming and exciting one. There are several artists that I’m been planning to collaborate with in the future, and some that I am currently working with. I have leaned heavily on my buddy Trent Miller of the Central Library’s Bubbler maker space to find out about shows and events, and he’s introduced me to many of my now favorite people in town.

So far, printmaker and all around brilliant human Lesley Numbers and I are planning an endurance march to Janesville, WI and will be working toward that this summer, and I have worked a bit with the generous and kind Mallory Shotwell of Madison Community Discourse. I am constantly inspired by both of their bodies of work. I have also met some non-artists and will soon be collaborating with a specialist in non-violent communication, and possibly a woman who manages a community outreach organization. Non-artists have a different perspective on making and I value that highly.

I also do a lot of documentation of art and installations for artists, and that’s allowed me to meet many incredible people.

What entices you about living in Dane County? What galleries, art museums, etc. do you like to visit in/around Madison?

Since I work on campus and my studio is on the Capitol square, I try to get over to MMoCA and the Chazen as often as possible. But I’ll admit that I’m better at reading art books and drinking coffee at home, or going to gardens (the Peter Krsko exhibit at Olbrich is fantastic!) than hitting up gallery nights. I prefer viewing art quietly, in solitude.

I am also big into learning about history and community, and I’ve been taking a course through Justified Anger that I have found illuminating. Groups like JA make me happy to be here, be challenged, be a part of a community that wants to take responsibility for itself and its history. 

In general, the Madison area is complex, lovely and welcoming, and I have learned so much in the past year. I cannot wait to continue learning more about the art and personalities that make up Dane County.

Ready to Visit?

Arts + Literature Laboratory is located in Madison’s Schenk-Atwood neighborhood at 2021 Winnebago Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53704.

Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 11am-3pm during exhibitions or by appointment. Please check the exhibitions calendar before planning your visit, as the gallery is closed between exhibitions and other schedule changes are posted here.

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