Jennifer Shaw is a photographer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has been featured in B&W, American Photo, Shots, Light Leaks, The Sun, and Oxford American magazines, online publications including NPR, Fraction Magazine, One One Thousand, Lenscratch, and Brain Pickings, and are included in two recent monographs: Hurricane Story, and Nature/Nurture. For ten years she was the executive director of PhotoNOLA, an annual photography review and festival organized by the New Orleans Photo Alliance.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
I took a darkroom class at 15 and was irrevocably hooked from there. I purchased my first plastic Holga camera in 1999, and found them to fit my way of seeing the world. The work I’m sharing on Southern Glossary was all taken on an iPhone within the past year. The digital realm is relatively new to me, but the square frame and snapshot immediacy are akin to plastic cameras.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
New Orleans is a great muse and I feel very grounded in and inspired by the city and the region. Though I wouldn’t define all of my work as purely about place, I do think that a sense of place shimmers through.
How do you choose your subjects?
I try to wander with an open mind then stop to photograph the things that strike me as interesting. For me it’s more a process of finding and discovery rather than active pursuit of an idea or subject – tuning in to all the crazy, beautiful, weird, poetic, funny, tragic things that the world offers up every day.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
My first photobooks were Diane Arbus and Joseph Koudelka. In college I was big on Francesca Woodman, Pierre et Gilles, Ralph Gibson. After moving to New Orleans I started to learn about the Southern photographers, Keith Carter and Debbie Fleming Caffery. More recent photo crushes include Matt Black among others, and I’m looking forward to taking a week-long workshop with Cig Harvey this fall.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of?
Yes! New Orleans has a vibrant photo community and I have a group of friends that I meet with every few months to share and critique work. That’s one of the biggest perks of my involvement with PhotoNOLA and the New Orleans Photo Alliance. I’m also a member of Shootapalooza, an alt-process collective with members from all over.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
Short stories, music, nature, binge-watching a beautifully filmed and engaging television show, photobooks, photoblogs, profiles of artists in the New Yorker, etc.
Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?
I’d think it’s fair to say I flirt with the Southern Gothic in my film work. And I shy away from things that are overtly dripping in sentimentality, along with certain already well-documented New Orleans themes.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
At this particular moment, yes. And that comes down to a simple matter of “Am I making work?” Right now I am and that feels great.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
I’m newly obsessed with chemigrams. I started experimenting with them in January and am having so much fun playing in the darkroom. And this cell phone photography – the work I’ve been sharing here – is all quite new to me. I got my first iPhone last summer and I’m enjoying playing with it and discovering the perks and parameters of the camera. So right now I’m in a playful, creation phase, open to seeing where the work leads me rather than working toward an end goal. It’s a very nice place to be.