Monday, April 1, 2013

Jason Demarte

Jason DeMarte is an emerging artist teaching as a tenure track faculty in photography at Eastern Michigan University. He received his B.F.A. in Photography from Colorado State University and a M.F.A in Photography from the University of Oregon. DeMarte's work has been exhibited in galleries and museums, both nationally and internationally. He is currently represented by Rule Gallery in Denver Colorado, and Wessel Snyman Creative in Cape Town, South Africa. DeMarte is part of the Photographers Showcase at Photo-Eye Gallery in Santa Fe. His work has appeared in journals, textbooks and publications including Photography Now, Photo Review, the Wynwood Arts Magazine, A Short Course in Digital Photography, Fraction Magazine, the Black Warrior Review, and the Oxford American. Jason's Utopic work recently closed a solo exhibition at Rule Gallery in Denver, and Wessel Snyman Creative in Cape Town South Africa. His Utopic work was also featured in a group exhibition titled the Museum of Un-natural History at Clamp Art in NYC. Jason was awarded the Gary B. Fritz image maker award this year at the national Society of Photographic Education conference in Atlanta Georgia.

View more of Jason's work here 

Ashley Kauschinger: The aesthetic in your series, Nature Preserve is very specific. How did you find this visual language and how has it evolved? 

Jason Demarte:
Nature Preserve is an offshoot of earlier work where I was interested in creating a dialog about consumption using images from natural history displays and other elements of fabrication. The work in this collection has taken on a more direct entanglement of the two ideas where the animals themselves appear to be infected or sometimes replaced with products, which speaks about their inherent worth as seen through the eyes of the American consumer. I originally became interested in photographing in natural history museums after re-visiting the Denver Natural history museum – the natural history museum of my youth. It was 2005, I had just moved back to the US after spending three years teaching in Dubai and wanted to shift the focus and look of my work. I had this idea to make ‘false’ landscape images from inside the museum; something about the irony of being an indoor landscape photographer interested me a lot. During a family visit to Denver I experimented with this idea and made some images in the museum. While I was happy with some of the results, what really made an impression was watching how people were interacting with the displays. Families shuffled from one diorama to the next admiring the wonders of the natural world. It was a perfect little slice of nature for people to easily digest and move on to the next. This behavior seemed strikingly similar to window shopping, and looking at the dioramas, I was reminded of perfectly composed and lit images I had made assisting as a product photographer. From there, the connection between consumerism and simulated nature was obvious and I found myself continually fascinated with the similarities and the symbolism of connecting the two. I started by using diptych imagery to compare to the two, and over the years the two images have merged, becoming more integrated and more dynamic showing how the two ideas are inextricably connected. 

AK: What ideas about American culture does your work explore? 

JD: My work investigates the charade of American consumer idealism versus the actuality of what is delivered. I use the history of this country, particularly Westward expansion and ideas surrounding the glory of Manifest Destiny, as strong visual representations of a fantasy promised. The romanticizing of adventure and nature is a strong cultural narrative in this country. This romantic fantasy compared to the ‘real’ experience of Westward expansion, was very different, just as the promise in advertising of how purchasing particular products will enhance your life versus the reality of how your life will change when you own those products are very different. The same idea holds true with politics: ideal versus reality. This model, as old as our country, permeates current consumer ideological trends. The hunger of American culture for something bigger, better, faster, easier, through whatever means necessary is still present today, and it drives consumption, from food to politics to international attitudes and policy. To illustrate these ideas, I frequently return to the idea that the manipulation of food, and the imitation of nature as strong metaphors for fabrication of truth. 

AK: Your images speak about fabricated elements of our lives, and question what is real. Does this connect to ideas you have about photography as a medium?

JD: Absolutely, the fabricated subjects I use subvert the truth the same way a photograph can. It gives me great pleasure to think about compounding that subversion by photographing it, removing another level of authenticity through reproduction, then presenting it through a medium that lends itself to believability. I am interested in using this conundrum to question everything from politics to products. Though the work has become more painterly it is important to me that every element originates from a photograph because of that inherent believability. There is just something about a photograph and how it traces life, that no mater how much the image is manipulated it still holds our attention in a different way than say a sculpture or a painting. 

AK: How do you promote your work, and balance this with creating work and being an educator?
JD: That's really an ongoing process that I am still figuring out. During the semester I set aside one day a week to work in the studio but I always find it difficult to make work in such a fragmented schedule, so I tend to make the bulk of my work during the summers when I can better focus my attention in one place. Promotion on the other hand is a 24/7 job and I regularly push out applications to exhibitions, grants, and competitions, I also spend a lot of time writing proposals, sending work to blogs like Light Leaked and online magazines. I’m a big fan of portfolio reviews and conferences like SPE which I attend regularly. It’s really a great way to meet other photographers and make connections in the art world. It’s a constant juggle but its worth it when you love what you do.

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