Photographer Interview: Justine Reyes

While books and the web enable us to consume photography wherever we are, there's nothing like seeing a photograph up close. This past April I discovered Justine Reyes' work while attending the Women in Art Photography Panel.

From her Vanitas series, I saw the luminescent image of a half-eaten banana composed with a coin purse, clearly recalling the 15th century still lifes made popular by Dutch master painters.

Reyes' lighting skills go beyond the technical because she uses them to convey a deep, emotional feeling that is unique in each series whether she's photographing decaying fruit or family members.

Follow Justine Reyes on Twitter.

D&B: Where are you from?
JR: I was born in San Bernadino, California but moved to New York City when I was two.

D&B: What kind of photography do you shoot and how did you get started - any "formal" training?
JR: I do mostly fine art, conceptually based photography. I have many years of “formal training” from an arts high school (Laguardia) to my MFA (San Francisco Art Institute) but I’m not a tech person.

It is easy to get lost in the pleasure of photo geek-dom but I just learn as I go. I’m making very technical work, especially the still lifes but I don’t want that to override the emotional content of the work.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?

JR: I have been using the studio a lot over the years and mostly shoot with a Wista 4x5 camera and a Mamiya 7. Lighting is extremely important to my work. I often use strobes and sometimes an on-camera flash. I’m still shooting film and printing mostly in the darkroom.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
JR: I have been extraordinarily lucky to study under some amazing photographers; Doug Dubois, Linda Connor, Henry Wessel, J. John Priola and Tim Harvey just to name a few. I have also been very blessed to get to know some very talented photographers here in New York.

Amy Stein has been a friend and mentor to me for the last few years. She has been very generous with her friendship, her feedback and guidance on my career.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color?
JR: It is harder and more challenging for a woman to assert oneself in a professional manner because no matter what you do there is always the fear of being labeled a bitch or not being taken seriously.

I have struggled with the realization that art making is a business and sometimes it is necessary to state yourself clearly, make your voice heard and stand up for what you want and deserve.

D&B: When did you realize you could have a career in photography? Describe your journey towards becoming a working photographer.
JR: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Thankfully I come from a family that supports me in everything that I do and really believes in me so I’ve always felt that it was normal to choose to do something that you love.

Getting my MFA really helped me to develop my vision and approach my work and practice very rigorously. It has only been the last few years that I have begun to set concrete goals for myself and really take all the steps necessary to accomplish them.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?
JR: To share my thoughts and feelings about the things that are most important to me. For the past four years since the death of a close family member I’ve been making work about mortality, family and memory.

The fear and pain of loss consumes my work. I am interested in creating a dialogue and making photographs that have an emotional impact.

D&B: What's your dream photography project?
JR: I’m working on a series called Home, Away from Home which combines the photographs I take of my family at home, with pictures of them in hotel rooms around the world.

We have taken one trip per year since the death of my uncle four years ago. We’ve gone to Spain, Italy, Bermuda and Australia together. My dream is to get enough funding to continue this project.

D&B: What's the biggest (life) lesson you've learned through photography?
JR: How to look at things. There’s this saying in photography “Take your photo, then turn around. There’s probably another great or even better photograph behind you.”

I’ve done this while shooting and it’s always been true for me. I think it applies in life too. Sometimes we get so focused on one thing that we fail to notice all the other possibilities around us.

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