Today Maria Jpeg, beloved DC photographer and dear friend, posted photos on Facebook that she had created by turning her apartment into a pinhole camera. This was part of a new series of photos that she has been showcasing on Facebook, as she and Chris Newby continue to tweak the concept of a pinhole apartment and play with the space and orientation. I was energized by this level of creativity and was excited to witness some of DC’s greatest underground artistic contributors reach new heights. And it’s happening here, today now. We gotta acknowledge that shit!
When people are bidding on Maria Jpeg pieces for thousands of dollars, we are all going to talk about the days when she was just starting out. Why not talk about those days now as they happen?
When I first met Jpeg just under a year ago, I would long for that coveted Facebook notification to be delivered to my phone after a great night at the lounge: “Maria Jpeg Izauralde has tagged a photo of you.” Each week as I waited for this coveted notification to arrive, I would curl my hair as best as I could, wear a dope outfit, pick bright colors, throw on some high-heels…you see, I hadn’t quite determined what criteria merited being photographed by Maria Jpeg Izaurralde so I had to try everything. The first time I did finally receive that epic notification, it was a photo of my friend Noelle and me, wearing glasses, laughing like dorks to each other about something intellectual (I’m sure). Jpeg didn’t even really know us that well at the time and still managed to capture a quintessential aspect of Noelle’s and my friendship: That we are intelligent dorks, who enjoy analyzing an evening at the lounge talking about it rather than getting wasted and biddying. I noticed then that this is what Jpeg photography was about. This is why her photos have never had that cheesy club feel that many other nightlife photographers can’t seem to shake.
Her photography sheds light on personality, moments of friendship, passion, excitement, sadness, shyness, confusion, sexiness, confidence. Real human emotions. It lends itself to what the person is thinking rather than the image they are trying to exude in the context of nighttime debauchery. She is able to disarm her subject and celebrate humans having fun. She does this by waiting for those moments in which genuine personality can be caught in two dimensions. She has defied the notion that photography cannot cut through fake appearances.
This success is a product of raw talent supplemented by a demanding personality. She will experiment with the best place to position her external flash, she will lovingly (but firmly) tell you where she needs you to stand, she will bring her own stool to stand on if she wants to shoot above a crowd (trust me, I’ve seen her do it), she will hang from a ladder or a window if she doesn’t want to be seen, she will always find a way to get to a venue (or ten) and she will be so excited about the result of all of these efforts working out that she doesn’t even allow time for you to get pissed or annoyed about her paparazzi behavior. In fact, after a while, you kind of like it.
It was always an intelligent decision of Jpeg to use Facebook as a medium that can work to her advantage. In the beginning, even I was confused as to why someone who is trying to establish themselves as a professional photographer would want to let her photos exist on Facebook for free, in an environment that might dilute their legitimacy or would value the subject rather than the artist who created the photo. Intelligently enough, Jpeg views Facebook as a way to get feedback and to allow people to enjoy her work in a way that is convenient for them. Plus, you can’t really do much with a photo from Facebook since the quality when saved to your harddrive is so poor anyway. They receive significantly more exposure on Facebook than they might if they had all been hidden away on a website that would be more than one or two clicks away, and let’s face it, we all really enjoy having our best selves documented professionally for the rest of our other friends to see. We feel part of a community, part of something exciting and provide Jpeg with an incentive to keep getting better. If, at the end of the day, we are all reflecting positively on Jpeg’s work, we all think she makes us look good, we all really hope that we are included in her work again…I would say she’s done something right. She has created a platform by which she can take her work to the next level and has used Facebook to culminate support and excitement around her art. As an artist myself, I have learned a lot from this step.
Finally, I like that she challenges herself and never gets too comfortable. She shoots far less often at the lounge than she used to and has moved on to shoot nature, the sky, the streets. She has a book coming out that she keeps close to the chest, and simultaneously pursues other projects. She brought what she learned from her 3 months in Argentina to Washington and moves like a shadow in and out of settings she wants to be in. She wears her dancing shoes when she wants to dance. She shoots plentifully and notoriously, constantly fine-tuning her ability to select the most quality shots. She builds on previous experiences to become better equipped at distinguishing a good setting from a poor one. She can decipher what colors and shapes will contribute to a visually-appealing photograph and will make it worth viewing even though there aren’t any people in it. She has an idea and runs with it and sometimes even the weakest ideas are successful simply because she has deemed them successful. Somehow, she remains disciplined enough to always put the photos up on Facebook or her website the next day. It keeps her work fresh and keeps us interested. And this week she is taking on the pinhole apartment. Try to keep up.
When people today tell me about how awesome the “old school DC” used to be or tell me how much better it was then than it is now, all I want to say is “fuck you.” Let me tell you why. It’s not because I don’t have an appreciation for their fond memories, because believe me I do. Instead, it is because the concept of “old school DC” is not an absolute. It is everchanging. One person’s “old school DC” is another person’s “new school DC.” To me, it’s not that time was better then than it is now, instead, it is that we forget to acknowledge what is going on now or we simply do not really know what specifically to appreciate. Do you really think that in 20 years, people won’t talk about the present like it was the golden era? I can hear it already:
“Man, back then, like in 2010, you used to go to the lounge and know everyone. Everyone had a role. It was this flow of love and intelligence. For example, there was Maria Jpeg…she was this bohemian photographer that would do crazy things like turn her apartment into a pinhole camera…and communications…people used to use simple tools like Facebook and iPhones…and it was such a community…you would run into friends on the street all the time or in clubs…there were such great DJs…like Sam Burns would throw this Sunday night dance party that people would attend so religiously it started being known as ‘Church’…wow…those were the days…”
It was this very concept that prompted me to want to write a bit about Jpeg’s artistic process in the present. Why not acknowledge what our closest friends, in this community of artists are doing now? It is these small things that are paving way to something huge and I know it. I am so fascinated by DC’s art scene, it’s potential, the familiarity of it, and what the people who are changing the face of its art and music scene are doing to make it happen. Perhaps I am naive, perhaps I am too optimistic, hey, perhaps I’m wrong. But I do have this gut instinct that Maria Jpeg Izaurralde is on to something…and that as artists/thinkers/soulshakers, we all better learn something now while we can.
Inspirations: http://www.abelardomorell.net/ (among others)