Fotoseptiembre has helped to shape Lauri Garcia Jones as an artist

One bit of advice that art photographer Lauri Garcia Jones has received from other artists is to never describe her work as “play.” The implication is that talking about “play” diminishes artists’ work. But she disagrees.

“For me it’s a necessity to play and explore ideas. You get your best ideas that way. I apply creative play to everything,” says Garcia Jones, who is probably best described as an emerging artist.

On this hot summer day, we have gotten together at the Southwest School of Art, where she is a student in the new BFA program launched in the fall of 2014. In a cool, computer-equipped classroom on the Navarro campus, she shows me the latest results of her creative play. It’s a photo series she has worked on for seven months, the longest and most demanding of her relatively young career. Named Incunabula (Into the Cradle), the project was strongly encouraged by Fotoseptiembre USA founder Michael Mehl, who developed an interest in her work several years ago after seeing examples of her early efforts at a Northwest Vista College show.

Mehl later invited Garcia Jones to contribute to a planned traveling exhibit of San Antonio women photographers, but when that plan fell through, he offered an even better opportunity:  her own monograph to be shown in the Fotoseptiembre’s SAFOTO Web Galleries, and he offered to curate it himself. “He said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was a cohesive body of work, based on a concept,” recalls Garcia Jones. “I accepted the challenge.”

The images included in Incunabula show the photographer herself as she is assuming a series of different physical configurations within the tight space of a box. “The idea was to come face to face with my limitations and to become newly aware of myself and what I am willing to do in the face of these limitations,” she explains. “So much of the time (in life) we are away from ourselves. I wanted to do the opposite, to become aware of what makes me comfortable or uncomfortable. My life has been confined in many ways. After a while you discover that challenges that you think are confining can become inspirations; they push you instead of holding you down. That’s what I have expressed visually in Incunabula. In that box you have to find a way that works for you. Toward the end of six or seven months, I found that I could do a lot more inside the box than at first.”  Viewed together, the images convey a sense of struggle, further emphasized by the shadowy illumination.

The painstaking work of being both in front of and behind the camera, stopping to readjust the camera and then repositioning herself in the box for multiple takes, taught her discipline and persistence, something she didn’t have before, she says. Though computer manipulation of pictures is pretty much part and parcel of digital photography, the Incunabula images didn’t require any. They stand on their own.

“When she showed me the first images, I knew where she was going,” notes Mehl. “I told her, ‘Don’t hold back and don’t stop working.’ I could see that she understood the profundity of what she was doing… The images are a full and complete expression of herself and her path of self-discovery. There’s a compelling sense of plasticity and a strong emotional and visual component as well. She executed her concept very well.”

Finding her calling

It took Garcia Jones a while to discover her passion. Though she recalls liking art and always  being the one who took pictures of everybody else, art as a profession never seemed like a viable option. She dropped out of high school, married, had three children, divorced and worked at a variety of jobs she didn’t care for.  “I was running away from art until 2011, when I was able to make a life change,” says the petite artist, who looks too young to have a 14-year-old son (she’s 34).

“I was able to return to school and now am enrolled here on full scholarship. Photography felt like a natural choice; I was most comfortable doing that. You can’t be happy unless you can do what you love.”

In her earlier work, she often used her children and close friends as models. “People are always my canvas,” is how she puts it. When they were younger, the kids enjoyed being part of Mom’s interesting experiments, but now they want to be paid, she says with a chuckle. As she gained confidence, the artist started inviting other people to become part of her photo projects, and quite a few agreed. A lot of that early work consists of narrative, carefully composed pictures that invite the viewer to interpret the often enigmatic scenes. In one photo, for instance, a naked woman stands against a wall of a semi-demolished structure, bricks lying around on the ground; in another, a different woman is partially sprawled over a bench, a flower bouquet in her hand, peering into the camera with a tired, perhaps disappointed expression.  “I am telling a story with each photo, but we don’t always know what the full story is,” notes Garcia Jones.

For the Fotoseptiembre 2014 show at Northwest Vista College, however, she presented a more conceptual series of related photographs titled There is No I in Me, which consisted of faces with elements of other’s people’s features superimposed on them. The idea was to show that people with whom we come in contact in our daily life become part of us, she explains. The overall effect is both amusing and intriguing. Other forms she has experimented with include photo collages and painting.

Largely self-taught so far, Garcia Jones is looking forward to the rest of her studies at SSA. Though at first self-conscious about starting college at 34, she now feels OK because “I am here because I know where I want to be.” Eventually, she would like to have a teaching career, and this past July she got a taste of it when she taught a creative photography course for children at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. Making a living with art photography alone would be difficult, and working as a commercial photographer doesn’t appeal to her.

Not surprisingly, Garcia Jones is grateful to Mehl and his Fotoseptiembre co-founder and wife, Ann Kinzer, for initiating the month-long photo fest here. “The Festival has created opportunities to show art photography for many artists, especially for me. Had Fotoseptiembre not been here, I don’t know if I would be doing what I am doing now,” she says sincerely. “Just seeing Michael and Ann at all the events is comforting, someone who really cares about what we are doing and offers support.”

For information about Fotoseptiembre 2015 go to www.fotoseptiembre.com

By JASMINA WELLINGHOFF
Photography by JANET ROGERS