Copyright © 2002, Photographic Resource Center, Inc.
Jessica Todd Harper’s subjects include herself and her family and friends within the domestic sphere. She acknowledges a debt to painting with her concentration on intimate moments in interiors as well as a fascination with natural light. Like Gest, her focus is on people’s private worlds and moments. Harper, her sister Becky, and even paintings of distant relatives, often directly engage the camera, generating a dialogue across generations and, by extension, the picture plane. Well-appointed interiors and possessions serve as backdrops for any number of histories and stories running just below the surface.
Originally from Albany, NY, Harper received her undergraduate degree in art history from Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA) and her MFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY). Currently, she is a visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College ( Swarthmore, PA) . In 2005, Harper was named one of PDN’s “30 Emerging Photographers to Watch” and awarded a Juror’s Choice at the Santa Fe Center for Photography. Harper has exhibited at venues such Blue Sky Gallery (Portland, OR) and the Silver Eye Center for Photography (Pittsburgh, PA). In October, Harper was featured in a solo show at Notre Dame University (South Bend, IN). She is represented by Stephen Cohen’s new gallery in New York, Cohen Amador.
I grew up copying paintings. My mother gave my sister and I first crayons, then charcoal, and finally pastels and watercolors as she plunked us down on the floors of local museums and directed us to pass the time drawing what we saw. Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Renoir were my heroes as a kid. When I went to college I became an art history major and fell in love with Vermeer, Memling, Pieter de Hooch and other Northern European artists who at first glance seemed to make paintings about nothing everyday-ness, but whose charged, quiet domestic scenes haunted me afterwards. I was impressed with the many seventeenth century Dutch painters who could at once make an image about an overflowing bowl of just-about-to-turn fruit and a metaphor for the beauty and tragedy of the human mortal experience. One could make the same observation about the children in Sally Mann’s photographs or the empty spaces in Andrew Wyeth’s paintings, both artists whom I also love.
My photographs reflect all these influences. They are about identity, familial relationships and the unspoken things that make up the inner stories of our lives. Sometimes that involves waiting for a “decisive moment” and other times I use Photoshop in a process analogous to combining different sketches for a final painting. In either case I strive to make pictures that rely on their intimacy and intensity to touch on the grander narratives of consciousness and what it means to be alive.- Jessica Todd Harper