The Home Stage
Before I had children, my working method largely involved waiting for inspiration to come. But with babies- sleep, showers and eating competed with the pictures in my head. One of the first images I made after becoming a mother was of me holding my new baby in the bathroom. I’m in a nightgown in my parents’ house and I (unconsciously) copied a very old theme: the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. Light surrounds and illuminates us in a way that suggests a miraculous, ethereal, and very special moment. But the image takes place in the real world. The miracle is sharing space with fatigue and a cluttered bathroom.
"The Home Stage" is a body of work about childhood and having children. The title references the home-bound lifestyle of families with small children as well as the idea that home is the stage on which children first learn to live. In his foreword to the accompanying monograph published by Damiani in late fall 2014, Alain de Botton writes “Harper recognizes the worth of a modest moment and marshalls her genius to bring its qualities to our notice. Her astonishing, beautiful and quietly stunning images proudly contradict our prejudices by foregrounding all that we are likely to have missed.”
I copied a lot of master paintings as a girl. Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and Vermeer were my heroes. What they all had in common, apart from their exquisite use of light, was their interest in intimate relationships and family life. When I grew up and became a photographer, their images remained in my head. “Interior Exposure” is a collection of images of my own family and friends, including many of my nascent marriage. It was published as a monograph by Damiani in 2008.
My interest in art began when I was a small child. My mother used to take my sister and me to all the museums in driving distance from our home in Albany, NY, and we would spend afternoons copying paintings first with crayons and then with charcoal and finally, when we were older and more experienced, with pastels. This traditional artistic preparation took an unexpected course once I started making photographs an a teenager but the familiar canvases of my childhood heroes- John Singer Sargent, Whistler, Vermeer- still have their influences today: I am interested in making intimate, psychological portraits, where environment plays a large role. For subject matter I use what I have at hand: family, friends, and more recently- babies and small children. While the greater themes in my work have been fairly consistent over time the newer subject matter also focuses on the intense and highly charged experience of childhood and having children.
Jessica Todd Harper’s photographs have been discussed in The New Yorker, Photo District News, Camera Austria, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among others. Harper’s first monograph, Interior Exposure, (Damiani 2008) was selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as well as PDN as a top book recommendation, was shortlisted at the NY Photo Festival for Best Book and won a first place Lucie Award. Her work recently appeared in museums across the country in both “Masterpieces of American Photography”, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film’s traveling exhibit, and in “The Art of Caring” The New Orleans Museums of Art’s traveling exhibit. She has had solo shows at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Cohen Amador Gallery in NYC, The Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, The Allentown Art Museum, Galerie Confluence in France, and upcoming at Rick Wester Fine Art in NYC. She was a project competition winner at Center, Santa Fe and one of “PDN’s 30: Our Choice of Emerging Photographers to Watch”. Editorial clients include New York Magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Die Zeit Literatur and Newsweek. Her work won a first place for the 2010 Society of Publication Designers competition. A New York Photo Festival award winner (Best Fine Art Image 2008) and a 2009 recipient of a PA Council for the Arts Grant, Harper has been invited to talk about her work at such places as The International Center for Photography, New York, NY; Google Headquarters, Palo Alto, CA and Aperture Gallery, New York, NY. Harper has taught at both The ICP and Swarthmore College. Her next book (Daminai Editore) is due out in Fall 2014 and will include a foreword by Alain de Botton and an essay by Alison Nordström.
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