December 2015 Artist in Residence: Jay Turner Frey Seawell

This month we welcome Jay Turner Frey Seawell as our December artist in residence!

Jay Turner Frey Seawell is based in Washington, DC. He earned his MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2013. His photographs have been included in numerous exhibitions in the United States as well as the Pingyao International Photography Festival in China. Seawell was the recipient of the Albert P. Weisman Award (2013) and the John Mulvany Scholarship (2012). More recently, he was a nominee of The Baum Award for An Emerging American Photographer (2014). His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. His photographs have appeared in numerous publications including VICE Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek. At LATITUDE Jay will be working on prints from his series

We asked Jay to share a little bit about his practice and his plans for his residency here at LATITUDE.

How did you begin photographing and how has your relationship with image making changed?  

My parents and I traveled a lot when I was growing up. During these trips my parents would photograph frequently. My father was a printmaker and he occasionally used photographs as source material for his prints. He also obsessively photographed certain vernacular motifs such as arrows and hand-painted signs. At a young age I was inspired to get out my camera and document wherever we traveled. But recently I was looking through old photos that I had taken when I was in middle school and realized that I had brought my camera to school on some days and photographed friends and classmates. I do not remember taking any of those pictures.

I don't recall photographing much during high school, but I began studying photography in an academic context when I was a freshman at Indiana University. I took a beginning photography class with Jordan Tate and fell in love with photographing. At IU I took both photojournalism and fine art classes and I was exposed to a wide variety of image making methods. After graduating from college I spent a year working as a photojournalist but decided to go to graduate school to get my MFA because I wanted more freedom to choose what I photographed. I ended up attending Columbia College for graduate school and the program was a good fit for me.

In your series The Mall we see the idea of the monument thrown into question. It seems the images are a great deal less formal in their documentary quality than in your previous work. How do you see this series taking form and progressing?

I've been interested in monuments for some time. Part of my grad school thesis paper was about Lee Friedlander's series 'The American Monument' and shortly after graduating from Columbia College I moved to DC to begin working on the project about the National Mall. I also stopped making new images for my project National Trust a few months after moving to DC. I had grown somewhat restless with photography and I was tired of making pictures of spectacles and crowds and people, but I still wanted to work with photography. In one sense my practice hasn't changed that much because I'm still very much medium-specific, but I do think these newer pictures have a different overall aesthetic than National Trust. It's not just the mixing of black and white color - in general, these newer pictures are fragmented views The Mall and its details rather than vistas, and the images are largely devoid of people. When I began spending extended amounts of time at The Mall it was very clear from the get-go that it would have been obvious to make a body of work about the crowds of people that flock to The Mall, but I wanted to break away from that noise and commotion in favor of a more intimate and subdued interpretation of the space. In spite of its iconic nature, I'm interpreting the space as verging on anonymity so that the viewer can focus on other elements of the space besides the landmarks: namely, the things in disrepair, the shadows, the obstructions - things that conjure damage and loneliness.

I am also very interested in what constitutes "documentary photography" and how conceptions of documentary have changed over time. But when I photograph I am focused on making pictures instead of getting tangled up in categories. The larger questions can come later.

What are you most excited about for your residency at LATITUDE?

I'm excited about a lot of things! I'm psyched to use amazing facilities that I don't have at my disposal. To this point I have only printed images from The Mall at very small sizes but I'm looking forward to trying out many different sizes of prints.

But most importantly, I'm excited about eating Chicago food again. This city has incredible food.

If you're interested in scheduling a studio visit please email Jay at jtfs6886@gmail.com and get in touch with him to set up a meeting! Jay's open studio hours are from 1pm-3pm Monday to Friday.