Interview for El Nuevo Dia

The following is an interview by Ana Toro Ortiz which was published today in the Puerto Rican newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. It might answer some questions about Crude Awakening that have been circulating on the internet.

(ATO) Where were you when you hear about the oil spill for the first time?
(JFA) I was meeting my new grandson in the hospital for the first time. He was born April 19th, one day before the spill. I was not reading newspapers at the time. I have a vague recollection of something terrible happening in the greater world but was totally focused on the immediate joys of a new little person coming into the world.

(ATO) When and why do you decide to make this project?
(JFA) I was deeply disturbed by the images of the oil drenched pelicans that were first distributed during the early days of summer in Chicago, where I live. I remember walking along the shores of Lake Michigan watching young mothers with their children heading down to the crystal clear waters for a swim and could not help but think about what was happening on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. I have spent a lot of time in Louisiana, where I am known most recently for my photographic exploration of New Orleans post Katrina. I felt deeply connected to the area and was in touch with many of the photographers trying to get access to the oil spill. Having "covered" one disaster was enough for me...I never considered traveling down there to photograph the spill. However, I decided I might be able to help from afar, by creating a conceptual body of work that would discuss the oil spill.

(ATO) Was the work created for an exhibition or it was an internet based idea of diffusion?
(JFA) When I created the work, I was not thinking at all about how it would be shown or exhibited. It was only after the shooting that I decided I wanted it to reach as many people as possible. Once I sent it out to my email list, it started to spread. I also decided to create a video on You Tube as another venue to make the work more accessible. The power of the internet is really staggering. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be seen so widely.

(ATO) What was the creative process?
(JFA) I had pre-visualized the entire project before I took my first picture. I knew that I wanted the work to speak not only about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico but also have it relate to the issue of energy consumption and exploitation of the earth's resources worldwide. I tried to find families of various nationalities to support that premise, although someone mentioned that once a person is covered in the non-toxic substance, it was difficult to tell the nationality. That was one of the factors considered in choosing to use their names as titles, hoping the viewer would realize the titles might reference different nationalities.

(ATO) Who are the people in the pictures and how do you selected them?
(JFA) Of all the photographs, only 5 were taken of people who were neighbors or friends of friends. The rest of the subjects were complete strangers who saw me working on the beach as asked if they could participate in the project. People everywhere are acutely aware of and deeply concerned about our collective impact on the environment.

(ATO Was it really oil? Where is the setting?
(JFA) I initially wanted to use real oil but did not think it would be safe. I tried to simulate oil in photoshop which did not work. I thought the project was dead. Then I went to a BP protest in Chicago and casually asked another protester if she would consider modeling with real oil. She said yes which totally shocked me. We then brainstormed about other non toxic substances we might utilize.

All of the photographs are taken on the shores of Lake Michigan which contain 20% of all the world's fresh water supply, a few blocks from where I live.

(ATO) How many days did you worked on the project?
(JFA) I started brainstorming about the project in early June. On June 11th the project became a realization when this stranger said yes to being a subject. Two days later I was photographing my neighbors. The shooting took place between June 13th and June 30th.

(ATO) What was the hardest part of the process?
(JFA) The hardest part of the whole process is letting go of the work. There has been some misinformation on the internet about where the images were taken and the intent of the project. It would have been wonderful if the artist statement had been embedded in the images files and were mandatory reading for viewing the photographs.

I have always said that when you make art and decide to "put it out there, " you need be ok about letting it go, because everyone has a different take on how they will experience the work. I really like what was written on the blog, " doesn’t the value of art derive precisely from the fact that it is not the real thing?”

(ATO) In terms of making people around the word conscious about the environment, what has been the biggest obstacle?
(JFA) That is a big question. I don't really think I am qualified to answer. My hopes are that this work might be a spring board for more discussion.

(ATO) Why the Internet?
(JFA) I had an exhibition last year at the Chicago Cultural Center of my Katrina photographs, After the Storm. What pleased me the most was that people who would not normally go to an art gallery had access to the work. It made me realize the power of public art spaces. I am really pleased that the work has been seen by so many people worldwide. It is really staggering.

(ATO) I see in your work that you're interested in an anthropological view at the different phenomenons... How do you describe your style?
(JFA) I am a clinical social worker by training and have been in practice for over 35 years. I have traveled extensively and am most interested in our shared humanity. There is a "collective unconscious" that exists, no matter where we live. I am interested in how we all come into this world, how we leave this world, and everything in between (which is, if we are lucky, love). My work is about life cycles and trying to understand the meaning of life more fully. How that gets translated into "style," I am not sure.

(ATO) When did you start to work in photography?
(JFA) When my youngest child began grammar school and some time freed up, I began taking art classes and decided to try photography as I had just purchased a new camera in preparation for a trip. At the start of the class I did not really understand the nuances or poetic potential of photography. I had an exceptional teacher, Richard Olderman, who taught me to see with my heart. I learned over time that the camera was just another tool for expressing oneself.

(ATO) Do you have faith in art as a way of making a change?
(JFA) Image and art making , if done well, can have a tremendous impact on social change.

(ATO) If theres anything you would like to add or share with our readers is more than welcome.
(JFA) I always assumed that we would leave this world in better condition than how it was passed on to us. Now I am not so sure it is possible. The challenges are great but for the sake of the future of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren I have hopes that we can learn from our mistakes and be better stewards of mother earth.

©2010 Jane Fulton Alt ~ Jean and Jordan