Monday, February 25, 2019

The Trip to Santa Clarita: A Photo Essay with Q & A

geometric forms, dappled light

What follows is a conversation with Jennifer Reese about her photo essay inspired by a trip to Santa Clarita, California. We spoke to her at her home in Brooklyn.

Q: Jennifer, tell us about your recent trip to Southern California to visit your son, Owen, at college. That’s an extraordinarily evocative photograph of the front of his school (see above), but I’ve heard you found the surrounding scenery gorgeous and inspiring.

A: Yes indeed. It was both familiar and exotic. I’m a native Californian and after six months in Brooklyn I was bowled over by the grandeur of the rugged green mountains, the palms, the orange trees. I saw it all anew. Just staggeringly beautiful, the American West.

Q: How did you find your son?

A: I found him, as I did the landscape, both familiar and exotic. I was sitting in the lobby of the La Quinta waiting for him one evening and I looked up and thought, who is that tall, handsome, self-assured young man with platinum blond hair walking swiftly towards me?

Q: What a sweet moment. I hope you told Owen you thought he looked handsome.

A: Of course. I told him he looked very handsome despite the absolutely ridiculous, embarrassing blond hair.

Q: I’m not sure . . . 

A: It’s an abomination. 

Q: As long as he’s happy. 

A: I’ve never seen him happier. 

Q: Is it true that the swimming pool at CalArts is clothing optional? That even classes are clothing optional?

A: Why does everyone keep asking me about that? Yes. It’s true. CalArts is not a stuffy place. I was just walking around one day and almost tripped over a girl who was rolling across a vast, empty atrium for no apparent reason.

Q: Clothed?

A: Yes. 

Q: Tell us about this next photo. It’s very subtle.


A: I’m so glad you like it! I was idly drinking my coffee at the La Quinta one morning when I decided to try to capture the atmosphere of the American chain-hotel breakfast room. It’s always the same, whether you’re in Anchorage or Austin. Awful food served in a space with the ambiance of a Jiffy Lube waiting room. No one seems to think this is as bizarre as I do. I feel this is a rich untapped subject for the American artist.

Q: Intriguing.

A: The first picture of the La Quinta breakfast didn’t include the TV tuned to political news, so I took another. I find this one more powerful.


Q: It is a stronger shot.

A: Right? I was going to post it on Instagram but I couldn’t think of a clever caption. I guess I’m really just a visual thinker. 

Q: Indeed.

A: I recently read a quote, attributed to John Cage: “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” I spent a lot of time each morning drinking coffee and studying the breakfast room which was, I admit, visually boring -- at first.

 But Cage was so right! It’s not boring when you really look. The last day of the trip a very old, scowling woman was pushing her walker — on which she’d balanced a styrofoam bowl of Froot Loops and milk — around and around the room. She was heading somewhere with great purpose and yet she never seemed to get there. At one point a middle-aged woman barked: “Sit down, Mom!” But Mom continued to circle. I could not look at the old woman’s ancient, demented face without experiencing a deluge of thoughts and feelings. How could anyone find that scene boring?

Q: Not boring, just depressing as hell. Jesus. Let’s move on. This is a masterpiece.


A: Wait, I can’t read you. Are you being sarcastic?

Q: Why would you think that?

A:  Good. Whew. I’m so insecure. Where were we? Oh yes. I’ve found that Santa Clarita has become less boring and less depressing the longer I’ve looked at it. On my first visit, I thought that there was nothing here but bland adobe-colored malls, bland adobe-colored housing developments, a lot of chain restaurants, and Magic Mountain. This is my fourth trip and I find more to interest me every time.

Q: How does this photograph illustrate that? What am I missing?

A: Glance at that picture quickly and you see only the Payless. Look longer and you see a marvelous used bookstore called the Open Book. 

Q: I see the Payless, but. . . let me find my glasses.

A: I spent ninety minutes at the Open Book and bought a copy of Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz for $2.95. It’s an incredible shop. Huge selection of books and low prices. I can’t wait to return.

Q: Inside of a Dog is superb. I love dogs.

A: Me too.

Q: I have a pit mix named Gracie.

A: How funny, I do too. 

Q: So what’s the next picture you want to talk about?

A: Next picture?

Q: Yes. We’re going through your photo essay from the trip to California.

A: These are the only photographs I took.

Q: WTF, Jennifer?

A: Excuse me?

Q: You call this a photo essay?

A: I call it a short photo essay.

Q:  Not a single picture of blond Owen or his lovely friends drinking Shirley Temples at the Italian restaurant? No shots of an orange tree or a palm tree or the fried bananas and coconut ice cream at Jitlada Thai? No pictures of the girl rolling across the art school atrium? Of the homemade Ring Ding at Olive & Thyme? The clothing-optional pool?

A: I’m going to have to ask you to calm down.

Q: No picture of your cute father who joined you on this trip? No shots of the towering eucalyptus on the CalArts campus? Of the found-object art in the gallery?

A: Why is everyone so hung up on the beautiful and interesting? Beauty is trite. Interesting is obvious. I prefer to focus on the utterly drab.

Q: That must be the secret to your success as an artist.

A: I’ve often thought it must be.



31 comments:

  1. This was hilarious. So happy to see you writing again!

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  3. This was very funny. What parents don't endure for their kids. It is so hard to let things go, like the hair, but we all must pick our battles. He'll be a different person in 5 years. I am enjoying your return to blogging so much, Jennifer.

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  4. What a piece! So glad you are writing. I thought I had done a pretty good job when my son graduated from
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  5. Hooray! Loved this. So glad you're back. x

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  6. I am so happy you are writing on this blog again. This made me laugh out loud.

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  7. Bless you. I've missed you and am happy and relieved to have you back. Please, stick around for a while.

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  9. So glad you are back! And I look forward to hearing more about your experiences as a native Californian now living in the four seasons of the east coast. And you are just in time for the Piglet? (if that is still of interest? I can see it might not be.)

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  10. It's great for actual children but once kids get into their teens, things go to hell real quick. There's almost nothing for teenagers to do there unless they spend money and have a car. Public transportation exists but it isn't that good, so you can't really go anywhere and even if you get there you'll get chased out because nobody wants teenagers hanging around. assignment help | buyassignmentservice.com

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  11. I took a chance checking out your blog because The Piglet is on - and scored! I am so happy to read you again. I enjoyed this post (great format) in particular. Maybe you could develop the character of the doctor who examined your foot into a TV treatment.

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  12. Yayayayay!!! Three new posts! Thank you! I was
    (and am) delighted to see your posts. You are a wonderful writer.

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  14. You're such a good author. I'm really glad you're back!

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  16. I loved your book, so here I am at your blog. I am also a cook and a writer, and wait, you can write a blog post in which you interview yourself?! That's great and I'm very tempted to copy it, but shall resist, at least for a while until I've appropriated the idea to some extent so that it's not really copying, but a whole different thing 'inspired by' rather than 'stolen from'. Also, I'm applying for masters programs, and my kid recently left for college. Is that a thing? Anyway, I love your writing and feel affection for you because I enjoy it so much. Best of luck with school, and thanks for making my life better through your work.

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  19. Hi,

    Were you able to bring all of your cookbooks with you to Brooklyn? Also, are you following The Piglet this year? I missed your input last year.

    Beth

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  23. You're back!!! I'm so excited. I found your book back in 2012 and loved it enough to give it to all my children for Christmas. Can't even remember all the recipes I've tried out of it, but today I realized my vanilla is getting low and instead of digging out the cookbook I headed for the internet. And low and behold, here you are again. Like others have said, I was checking in every few weeks to see if you were posting, but I had given up. People grow and move on and I've lost several lovely bloggers as they move through life. We too, repotted ourselves; twice actually. And I miss the old homestead so much. But .... they say bloom where you are planted, so that's what I'm trying to do, still 'Making the Bread and Buying the Butter.' And figuring out what brings me joy. :) Your blog is one of the latter. I hope to see you here regularly, or intermittently, whenever you get inspired. Welcome home.

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  25. I love this - so witty!
    Glad you are posting again.
    Thank you, as always, for the laugh!

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