Since its invention, the medium of photography has evolved at a rapid pace. Debates over what constitutes a photograph have been had since the nineteenth century, and with the contemporary integration of digital technology into this practice, these conversations have become more complex. While many image-makers choose a reductive approach to creating a traditional photograph, a number of others embrace all the tools photography has to offer, across both analog and digital realms.
For artist Jill Booker, the process of tearing images apart and piecing them back together into new forms is a cathartic form of creation. But mixing these tactile processes with editing methods in digital programs adds another layer to these works. Her multiple layers of interpretation are essential for unpacking and analyzing our memories and sense of self.
In this interview, Booker speaks to LensCulture about her intricate creative process, why photography provides such fertile ground for addressing memory, and what she hopes this work will help her audience consider.
LensCulture: Tell me about how you started working in this abstract process. Did it stem from other creative projects, or did you fall into it accidentally?
Jill Booker: A lot of my work starts with playing with apps and experimenting with various edits and styles. Several of these pieces were the result of playing with glitch effects in the Decim8 app on self-portraits. I liked the results, and in them I could see this feeling of falling apart and losing my sense of self, with the roughly-sketched outlines representing the beginning of me finding myself again.
For some time, I had also been thinking about scribbling on photos or tearing them up, but didn’t really know what to do with that idea. Then one day, I printed out some images and started ripping them up and reassembling them.
LC: And each of these final works is made up of a number of these images. How do you select them? Are they your own photographs?
JB: Yes, the images are all mine. I was somewhat random with my selections, picking out recent ones that reflect the things I am drawn to photographing – flowers, fences, etc. But I also chose images that provide some interesting contrasts – natural and human-made objects; softer and more stark images; textures and self-portraits.
LC: You mentioned you use an app for some of these pieces, but there are a lot of other processes that go into these works before you get to that point. Tell me, what are all the methods you combine in each work?
JB: The “glitch” pieces are the result of playing with an app, but for the collages I used an iPhone, camera, scanner, apps, and I also did some editing in Photoshop Elements. Most of the sketched lines were done digitally, although I also did some writing and line work on the printed images.
The collage pieces were developed over a series of steps. I started out by printing my selected images. Then, I tore each image into a few pieces, using tape to reassemble them into postcard-shaped sizes. I then scanned these objects, and printed the scans. Then I started another round of ripping and reassembling. In fact, there may have been a third round – I’m not sure!
As I was tearing and reassembling, my primary focus was making a composition that felt visually interesting. For example, I tore the pieces somewhat randomly, but paid attention to keeping the figures – people, flowers – intact. The process of reassembling the pieces was again somewhat random, but I also looked for connections: interesting contrasts or lines that started with one piece, which were continued or echoed in another. I also included a ripped-up self-portrait in most of the pieces.
LC: And what do the final steps look like, once you’ve gone in and imposed all these layers of alterations?
JB: Finally, I take photos of the finished collages. Sometimes I use Photoshop Elements to blend several images together. For example, “Shards 8” is a blend of a self-portrait and a collage – memory and a sense of self coming together. The final piece, “Shards 10,” is a blend of several earlier collages and textures with a line drawing on it, representing the self emerging from complex memories. Both the glitch and collage images work together by simultaneously coming apart and finding each other, putting the pieces together again.
LC: How do you know when a work is complete?
JB: I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question! Part of it is practical. For example, sometimes I can’t really tear up the images anymore because the small pieces become unrecognizable. Otherwise, I stop when I’m not sure what else to do with a piece, or after I have tried out a few further steps and don’t like the results.
I’m actually not sure I’m finished with this series yet. I’ve been thinking about exploring the idea of memory fragments and the connections between memories further. For example, I’m interested in leaving space between the torn pieces, using thread to connect them, or fading and crushing the pieces before assembling them.
LC: There’s a materiality to these works that isn’t often present in other photographs, which are usually flat. Your images make a point of revealing their own tactility. Why is this important for you to do?
JB: At one point, I did wonder whether the photograph of the collage or the actual taped-up paper was the piece, but it always comes down to that final photograph. The collages are quite flimsy, which mirrors the way memories fade and warp over time.
LC: Why did you make the decision for these works to be in black and white?
JB: I do think color brings out the tones and shading of memories, and opens up more possibilities for playing with the idea of fading. But this series felt more coherent when I converted it to monochrome. I think you could argue that it also gives it a more vintage look – a sense of looking back over time.
LC: You’ve mentioned the distortion of memories throughout this conversation. Tell me, what ideas surrounding that theme are you addressing through this work? What’s your intention for the work in doing so?
JB: I am fascinated by memory. It is such a powerful influence on our lives, but it is also ever-changing. Old memories fade and are changed by new experiences and understandings. Memories blend together over time. Sometimes imagined events and wishes even blend in with those memories. In spite of these changes to our thoughts, we trust and believe in them, and they are an important part of shaping who we are. The odd-numbered pieces in the series represent the process of simpler memories gradually building up into a fuller, more complex memory system – an autobiography.
I think the idea of “glitches” and putting the pieces together is also so important in this series. There are times when we feel like we have lost our way. We aren’t sure who we are or who we want to become. Perhaps part of working through that lies in memory – searching for connections that will help us put the pieces back together. The even-numbered pieces in the series reflect this. They develop from fragmented, ill-formed, empty versions of self to the sketching-in of a well-defined, more complex self that has internalized the memories.
LC: That being said, what do you want your viewers to take away from this work?
JB: I hope this series invites viewers to reflect on the ever-changing nature of memory. Each new experience is incorporated – sometimes easily, sometimes with difficulty – into a coherent life story and a sense of who we are.