Jessica Todd Harper; photographer, mother, and inspirational artist, has been selected to showcase her work at the "Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2016" competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Founded in 1856, The National Portrait Gallery was the first portrait gallery to be opened in the world and to this day, is home to the largest collection of portraits in the world. It honors British history, but above all, promotes admiration for those individuals who have made an impact on British culture through portraiture. The prestigious exhibition will open its doors on November 17th and will run through February 26th. From there, Jessica's work will go on tour to two other renowned galleries in London, the first of them being the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens in Sunderland, England! This museum holds great history of it's city as well as grand collections of work from photographers, painters, and other artists. Jessica's work will lastly be displayed in The Beany House of Art and Knowledge, which is part of the Canterbury Museums & Galleries located in Canterbury, Kent, England. The Beany House is the cities main museum, library and art gallery.
Jessica Todd Harper has quite an exciting month ahead of her to say the least, and AK&Co. could not be more proud and pleased to announce the wonderful news! AK&Co.'s Laura got the chance to chat with Jessica about her work in the upcoming "Best of Contemporary Portraiture" Exhibition before the opening!
Below - Jessica's featured photograph in the exhibition. This is Jessica's sister, Becky.
AK&Co: This is an extremely prestigious exhibition. Take us through the selection process.
Jessica Todd Harper: You were allowed to send up to five photographs, but you had to send in the actual prints, not the digital files - even though one would assume in this day and age it would be done digitally. From there, they contact you to let you know if your work will be featured in the show. So, I sent in three photographs and hoped for the best. A few months after I sent in my prints, I got the great news.
AK&Co: Who did you share the news with first?
Jessica Todd Harper: I shared the news with my sister first, who is also one of my subjects in the pictures. She was so excited and proud of me. My sister is always proud of me and my work.
AK&Co: How did you go about choosing the photographs you wanted to submit in the show?
Jessica Todd Harper: I simply submitted work that I took in the last year. The work I submitted, it was not what I thought was my strongest. You never know what the turnout is going to be.
AK&Co: What do you look forward to the most about the exhibition?
Jessica Todd Harper: I am truly just pleased to be in it, and am excited to see everyone else's wonderful work up.
AK&Co: Are there any contemporary artists or photographers whom you look up to or get inspiration from?
Jessica Todd Harper: Arnold Newman. He was considered the father of environmental portraiture. The way he composed his photographs was so influential for me because I am interested in incorporating environments into my portraits. I actually crossed paths with him at a young age and got to chat with him for a bit. He was a very sweet person.
AK&Co: How do you think contemporary photography has changed over the years?
Jessica Todd Harper: Contemporary photography has changed so much in the last five years. IPhone’s are everywhere these days. Photographers used to just carry their cameras around, but now they carry their IPhones as well. People are switching back and forth between the two constantly. Times have truly changed.
AK&Co: What is it that you want to say with your photographs?
Jessica Todd Harper: It is all intuitive. You just know when you see it, a moment, if it is going to be successful or not. There is not a boring photograph out there.
AK&Co: How is your own personality reflected in your work? How would you describe your photographic style?
Jessica Todd Harper: My work looks a lot like Northern Renaissance paintings. Paintings from the Northern Renaissance are not exciting or important like stories from the bible. They are just regular spaces with regular people and regular occurrences. After time, they unfold, and then you see what it is all about. I typically photograph what I have at hand and what is around me at that moment. My personality and culture is drawn to a certain kind of reserve. There is always a lot going on in a photograph of mine, but it is not all obvious at first glance. The more time you spend with the photographs, the more you see what is going on, and the more you understand.
AK&Co: Establishing connections with your subjects can be difficult, but it is one of the most important skills a portrait photographer must master. How do you connect with your subjects?
Jessica Todd Harper: It is a combination of making them feel like they can be vulnerable around you, not because you are their best friend, but because there is something comforting and nonthreatening around you so they can almost ignore you a bit. The goal is to have my subject almost forget I am there.
AK&Co: What has been one of the most touching moments you have experienced as a portrait photographer?
Jessica Todd Harper: Once, I photographed an Olympic swimmer, Dara Torres, who gave birth just 16 months prior to winning a gold medal. I was photographing her for a magazine and we were in her dressing room, and she had about 500 bathing suits to choose from. She was trying one on when all of a sudden her two year old escaped from her nanny, running right across the room into her arms. I captured that exact moment. That is something I will never forget.AK&Co: Goals for the future?
Jessica Todd Harper: I want to keep producing work that I care about. To take things as they come and to just keep shooting. There is no waiting around for inspiration.
Ashley Klinger & Co. is pleased to announce Jessica Todd Harper as winner of 2015 International Photography Award!
Our own Jessica Todd Harper was awarded a prestigious IPA this year! Check out the press bit and winning images below. Congratulations Jessica!
This year, The International Photography Awards received 17841 of submissions from over 230 countries, and is pleased to declare that Jessica Todd Harper was awarded 1st place in People-Family for the winning entry The Home Stage.
Jessica Todd Harper recently ventured out to the home of Dallas Art Fair co-founder Chris Byrne in the East Hamptons to photograph him, his home, and some details surrounding his property. Read about the intruiging history of the house and Bryne's plans for it's future in the full FD Magazine article here.
More from JMI photographer Jessica Todd Harper here.
Jessica Todd Harper isn't simply a photographer; she's a storyteller.
In her portraits, Harper aims not for compositional perfection, but rather: organic imperfection. The excellence of her photography lies in its ability to render those sincere moments-between-moments that occur within the domestic sphere of familial interaction. A risky approach for the conservative photographer, this is an artistic method that not only works for Harper, but also allows for a refreshing and unpretentious presentation of humanity.
Flipping through Jessica's portfolio, her collegiate background in Art History becomes immediately evident. With a palette reminiscent of Renoir and a composition comparable to the likes of Cassatt, the photographer displays a fascination with natural light in her work that only further fuels the emotional interaction between her photographs' subjects. Utilizing pure daylight to guide the viewer's eyes throughout the picture plane, Harper continues to deepen her work's psychosomatic complexity - turning seemingly ordinary moments into breathtaking glances into the intricacy of human intimacy.
Spontaneous and sincere, Harper's photographs allow for an unrivaled depiction of the pure, beautiful honesty that ignites human interaction. A New York Photo Festival 2008 award winner, a 2008 Lucie award winner, a 2009 recipient of a PA Council for the Arts grant, and named one of PDN's "30 Emerging Photographers to Watch," Jessica took a few moments out of her busy week to chat with JMI's Jennifer about her noteworthy (and highly-decorated) photographic career.
JMI Reps: How did you first get started as a photographer?
Jessica Todd Harper: I was taking a figure drawing class during the summer when I was 15. It was at a local college. They offered painting, too, and I had signed up for that as well, but instead - through some accident - I was put in the photography class. I didn't even know how to use the shutter button! I was a complete novice.
JMI: Your collegiate background includes the study of eminent painters... How would you say this has shaped your photographic style?
JH: I looked at a lot of Northern European painting in college, and I learned a great deal from that genre about what environments can say about the people depicted in them.
JMI: Would you say that your work has evolved at all since you first started out in the business?
JH: Well, one always hopes one has progressed. When I look at my younger work, it feels a little less sophisticated; but that's o.k... I'm pretty sure I was a little less sophisticated back then.
JMI: Your portraits are celebrated for their candid, real portrayals of humanity. Is this capture something that comes naturally, or is it calculated on your part?
JH: Ha! I would love to claim either or both - that I calculate everything meticulously, and/or that I'm naturally just brilliant. I think that, while I do plan, and there is also just a "style" that one has, there is also a lot of luck and hard work involved. I spend a lot of time looking at other people's art, and all of that gets internalized; those paintings and images have their influences in the work I make later. Also, most of the pictures I make I don't end up liking very much... that doesn't mean that they are a waste though; it is all a grist for the mill.
JMI: What is it about your work that you think resonates so strongly with people?
JH: Well, I think sometimes art can describe something we can't put words to, and that feels very satisfying when we see it. The writer Alain de Botton likes to say that I bring "glamour" to the everyday; not in a celebrity way, but by making seem special the things we don't necessarily notice anymore. Sometimes I can make this happen for someone else, and that is wonderful!
JMI: From where do you draw your creative inspiration?
JH: Watching people and how they move in the space around them.
JMI: Do you have an all-time favorite person, place, or object to photograph?
JH: I have found inspiration in my sister Becky ever since she was 8 and I was 15.
JMI: Are there any other photographers, or arists in general, past or present, who influence your work?
JH: Andrew Wyeth, Vermeer, John Singer Sargent, Arnold Newman, Sally Mann... just to name a few!
JMI: Have you ever found yourself struggling with anything particular in your work?
JH: All the time! The trick is not to worry too much about failure. You have to "shoot on goal," so to speak. If you don't try you will definitely not get the light/emotion/whatever.
JMI: Your photos are frequently recognized for their almost ethereal use of natural light. What is it about natural light to which you're partial? Do you find that it lends itself to the composition of a photograph better than, say, artificial light?
JH: I don't really know how to answer this. Perhaps it is just something I respond to on a very basic level; sunlight effects us on so many levels, biologically and spiritually. Sunlight isn't always "better" per se, but it does create a certain mood that can feel very real and intimate for certain subjects.
JMI: People are frequently analyzing your work, and many argue that there exists a deeper contextual layer to it... Do you aim to instill a deeper analytical element into your photography?
JH: This is hard to know. I do not try to overthink my pictures, because then they can lose their veracity.... but at the same time, they are reflective and careful pictures. While I mostly seek to make pictures intuitively, I also try very hard not to be sloppy. Imagery - just like words - means something, and just as I would not pepper my language with a lot of expletives to make sure you hear me, I wouldn't toss a lot of symbolism into a picture just to make sure you pay attention.
JMI: Which photograph in your portfolio is your personal favorite?
JH: That changes all the time! I do like the one with the two men sitting across from each other and the children all over the frame (inset below)... It just was so hard to get all of that in one frame! (No Photoshop). And I love that house...it is in a community...in Philadelphia that seeks to restore their historic neighborhood, and I admire that.
JMI: Alright, last one! If you had to pick ONE goal to set for yourself (creatively speaking) for the coming year (2014), what would it be?
JH: My 5-year-old son recently said that he knows when a book is beautiful because he gets "a special feeling in the back of [his] neck and in [his] forehead," and I thought, "I know exactly what that means!" That is what I wish to do: to make something beautiful for a stranger.
As an artist, Jessica Todd Harper has become an expert in rendering beautiful and natural-looking portraiture. So it's really no wonder that O the Oprah magazine asked Harper to photograph the below story for the publication's September issue.
Titled "Can You See the Real Me," the article discusses the life and work of Vivienne Ming, a transgendered person who spent both her childhood and young adulthood trying to figure out how to become comfortable in her own skin.
Today, Vivienne opens up to Oprah magazine about the tribulations of battling with one's gender identity, and how she eventually achieved peace of mind (and body).
Pick up a copy of the Oprah magazine to learn more about Vivienne's moving story, and for more of Jessica's stunning portraiture - be sure to visit the JMI site!
....And don't forget to keep an eye out for JMI's latest interview with Jessica Todd Harper - coming soon!!
JMI Photographer Jessica Todd Harper has a passion for storytelling and has always loved to share her own stories, as well as the stories of others by way of a camera lens. When she was asked to have her own show at Galerie Confluence in Nantes, France it was obvious that Jessica would be a great next interview subject for our “insider interview series". We sat down to discuss the show and to explore her roots as a photographer. Along the way we discovered a bit more about her style, her family history and what she loves about photographing people. Jessica has been a part of the JMI family for a while now, yet we even managed to learn some things we didn't know about her!
A major thank you and congratulations to Jessica Todd Harper for sharing her creativity, insights and displaying such passion during this interview process! We know that the show(s) will be a major success and are excited to hear all the tales of the trip!
Note: If you can't make it to the show in France, have no fear! Jessica is also having a show in the US at Gallery 339 in Philadelphia from September 21st-December 22nd. More information to follow!
JMI: Tell us how you became interested in photography? Your work has such a fine arts feeling to it! What’s your "photography history"?
JTH: For as long as I can remember I wanted to be an artist. I used to sit on museum floors as a child and teenager, copying paintings with my sketchpad.
One summer, when I was 15, I took a figure drawing class at Russel Sage College in the mornings. I had signed up with the intention of taking drawing in the morning and painting in the afternoon but there was some kind of mix-up and I ended up in Photography.
Once I picked up that camera, I never put it down.
JMI: One of the unique aspects of your images is the way in which you use natural light. We picked up that you specified that the class was “in the morning”. Did you notice that?
JTH: No, I didn’t! Hmm…
JMI: Your light and style are quite specific. What do you use for inspiration? Or should we say, who is your inspiration?
JTH: Well, a lot of it comes from looking at paintings so much as a child. I wanted to be just like John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, or Edgar Degas. All of them worked with the figure and their portraits drew me in.
JMI: A photographer who is inspired primarily by painters, it’s quite a different trade. Do you usually set up your images or do you catch moments as they happen?
JTH: I do both.
Sometimes, I am inspired by a certain kind of light and lead people into the space.
Sometimes I am simply interested in the figures themselves and how to fit them into an interesting rectangle (or square).
JMI: Let's talk a little bit about the transition from fine arts photographer to advertising shooting. How do you feel the creative processes differ? Do they?
JTH: They are similar in that they both are about solving some kind of intellectual puzzle. You have a subject(s) and a space to work in. And then you have a message you want to communicate which is generally more opaque in fine art shooting.
As the photographer, the fun part is then figuring out how to manipulate the subject, the environment and the idea into a compelling (and beautiful) image.
Perhaps the biggest difference is that on a commercial assignment I begin with the message firmly anchored in my thinking and in fine art work, I generally figure out the message during the process.
JMI: Well, now that we've discussed and covered a bit about your creative process, let’s talk about the upcoming solo show at Galerie Confluence in France! How did it all happen?
JTH: The gallery owners had seen my book, Interior Exposure and emailed me about how taken with it they were. They proposed a show right away.
It will be during a photography festival – and Jazz festival – in Nantes. So they are hoping for a lot of traffic. I will be giving a lecture as well as part of the program. I speak some French, having lived in Paris as a student. But, thankfully they will have a translator at my talk!
JMI: Wow. What an unbelievable opportunity! You say the owners were taken with your work, do you know what exactly it is about it?
JTH: I think they liked how the work related to the history of painting in a classical sense and also the “exoticness” of a very Northeastern United States aesthetic.
JMI: You're going to be very involved in the show itself, giving a lecture and spending time in Nantes. Were you involved in the image selection for the show?
JTH: I let them choose entirely. My feeling is that I stand behind all the work and it is always interesting to let someone else choose their favorites. As tempting as it might be to “micromanage”, I like to let curators, curate.
JMI: As someone who lived in Paris, surely you are excited to get back to France! What are you looking forward to most about the show?
JTH: I am curious how a room full of foreigners will receive the work. Since I’m giving the accompanying lecture as part of the show, I wonder if they will have the same sorts of questions and comments I usually get, or if they will be curious about different things.
JMI: The question we’re going to ask, and surely you get all the time: what’s next?
JTH: I have been experimenting with some of the interiors of some lovely old homes in Philadelphia. I still work with people. I don’t think I will ever morph into a landscape or still life artist.
JMI: Why not? What it is about people?
JTH: Man has known since it first started depicting itself how exciting it is to celebrate the brevity, the divinity, the mystery, and both the utter familiarity and strangeness of humankind. Every portrait is exciting for me in that it is a new puzzle to be solved, and life to be celebrated. It never, never gets old.
I really love telling stories and passing them on from generation to generation. For me, that’s what’s at the heart of a good photograph. Behind every person there is a good story and I like to know the history of people.
JMI: Would you mind sharing your favorite story?
JTH: Since I am really family-oriented, I love hearing the stories of my ancestors and sharing them between generations has always been an important part of the fiber of our family.
Because of this, there are just so many stories, it’s hard for me to pick one. If I had to it would probably be the one about my great-grandmother in the Civil War and the way she protected her son and husband. Shortly before the war started, the confederate solders came into their home and, fearing for her son and husbands safety, she welcomed them in. She read them stories from the journal she kept (of our family stories) and captivated the soldiers’ attention.
The solders fell into a deep and restful sleep. Waking up the next morning, they were appreciative of all my great-grandmother did and the kindness she showed them that they left the house without even thinking twice about her son and husband.
Her actions may very well be the reason I’m here today.
JMI: What an unbelievable story. Surely the story of your trip to France and the solo show in Nantes is a great one to add to the family book. We're looking forward to hearing many of those stories upon your return!