Tuesday, April 3, 2012

AROHO Speaks, Writer to Writer: Interview with Jan La Roche

A Room of Her Own Foundation is gearing up to accept applications for its 6th Gift of Freedom Award. The most recent Gift of Freedom Award winner, Summer Wood, (author of Wrecker) speaks about the award on She Writes this week here.

Here’s the latest gem in our series of interviews celebrating A Room of Her Own Foundation's Summer 2011 Retreat (from the interview team: Lisa Rizzo, Marlene Samuels, Barbara Ann Yoder and yours truly). In the following interview excerpt, writer Jan La Roche turns her poet’s eye on a brief history of photography and explores how the metaphors of photographic process lend inspiration to her work.

Jan La Roche
Can you describe for us what you’re currently working on?

For the past four years I have been working on a manuscript titled, Vernacular. It is a title with two meanings. Most people first think of this word associated with language currently being spoken in a region of the world. Being a photographer who has studied art history and photo history as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, I first learned the term vernacular as a turn of the twentieth century reference.

Kodak introduced the Kodak #1 camera in 1888 with a 100 exposure roll of film inside it. Americans went wild shooting snap shots of everyone and everything around them. Simple everyday moments of life in pictures were done for the pure joy of something new without restrictions of art trends, commerce or advertising. Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, started the Photo Succession and Pictorialist movements in rebellion to the random pictures of the masses. As an advocate of the aesthetic, he made photography into an art form.

My poems are written for the pleasure of discovery. I never know how they will turn out until written on the page. My spiral notebook is a playground where all ideas run free. Margins have more points and additions scribbled in. The surface of the page is covered with possibilities. It all hangs out there until transcribed on the laptop into stanzas. The process is similar to pre-digital photography because back then I knew what I was trying to capture, but didn’t know if the picture was successful until printed and scrutinized for detail.

Over the years I have added more poems to Vernacular that pertain to different aspects of the photographic process such as when I managed a one-hour lab in the ‘80’s, “loads of film piled up/on my left like linguini.” When I described using a camera that “memoirs light” and “sees what is invisible,” I transformed a technical object into a magical art form. In the darkroom tray “an idea floats on water” and those pictures “outlive their biological cameras.” Another poem talked about conducting light as if it were music in an orchestra. The photographic poems emerge when the muse develops another idea. I cannot rush this collection, it would show. As it continues to grow, each poem is a nuance of photography that was, or is, a part of my life. Read more here.

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