This week, the Women’s Mobile Street Photography Collective (Streets Ahead) is pleased and honored to feature Jennifer Sharpe in our interview segment. Many of you may know Jennifer from iPhoneArt (IPA) and Flickr. She goes by the name “Odilonvert”
Now, if you’re like me… you’re probably asking yourself “What does Odilonvert mean?” Well, here is the answer: “Odilon is inspired by Odilon Redon (a French painter/artist from the 2nd half of the 1800’s) and “vert” means “green.” Ahhhh… once I learned this… I found myself looking at Jennifer’s work with a new set of eyes. Odilon Redon was an artist who visually explored his internal feelings and psyche. He strived to make the invisible become visible. And I think this is the perfect description of Jennifer’s work! She has embarked on the same artistic journey… the only difference is: she sometimes uses the street as her source of inspiration.
We hope you enjoy this article. And when you’re finished reading this, we urge you to check out more of her work at the galleries listed below.
© Jennifer Sharpe
Please share a little bit about yourself…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Bar Scene”
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where do you live?
I was born in Naples, Italy and came to the United States in 1970. I spent my formative years in New York City, and these days I live in Los Angeles.
If you work outside the home… what is your profession/professional background?
I work as a photo archivist for a government agency. It’s not an occupation that I studied for professionally (my BA is in East Asian Studies), but I’ve been archiving photos for more than nine years now and know a thing or two about digital archiving.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Gold Rims”
Have you always been interested in photography?
I grew up before digital existed and film was it. While I’ve always admired photography it seemed to me to be a very technical process, very scientific in terms of learning how to do it well. From what I could tell by speaking with photographers, there was an obsession with equipment too – there just seemed to be so much stuff you had to get just to create something. Not to mention the expense of it all.
Probably though the most relevant thing that kept me from getting into photography back in the days of film was the fact that the camera is removed from the hand. In other words, a machine does the initial work, rather than the pressure and movement of the artist’s hand. Having physical contact with a medium and being able to manipulate it directly has always been something that I seem to need, probably based on my drawing and painting foundation. When I started looking at pre-digital experimental filmmaking I realized that you can have that interaction with a negative – scratch it, paint on it, attach things to it, make a physical impact on it. So this year, I am going to start working with film, try some of those techniques, and combine it with digital processing to a degree. This for both still photography and moving images. Then I think I’ll feel most in my normal groove. In the meanwhile I’ve found that using a digital camera, starting with a point and shoot and then getting into mobile in the last year or so, has been a great way to ease into being more comfortable creating with a camera. Especially since I know that altering negatives lies in my future, it’s a medium that I’m going to stick with.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Grip”
Are you (or have you been) involved in any other art medium… such as painting, sculpture, writing, music?
Yes, painting, sculpture, writing, music and more. I grew up in artistic family, my mother and brother are classical musicians and teachers, and my father a visual artist and educator. With this family background and that of my academic studies, I’ve always been reluctant to become a specialist, though I tend to express myself most naturally and comfortably in the visual realm. However I feel happiest and most interested when I have the latitude and freedom to explore outside of my comfort zone, and express myself using more than one medium within the same piece, utilizing their differences to add layers of sensory experience. This is why the moving image is my first love. Within one work, you can express your story or feeling or thought with words, images, music and movement. That multi-disciplinary approach works very well for someone with my temperament and interests.
Which mobile device do you use?
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Sharing On Mobile”
Which mobile device do you use to take your photographs? Also, we’d be very interested in learning what camera apps you use (if any)… as well as post processing apps.
I use an iPhone 4. I got a smart phone, indeed cell phone, very late in the game compared to most people – in 2012. I’ve only been exploring iPhoneography since I joined iPhoneart.com, after I read an article about it on CNN. Since then I have played with many, many apps, but gradually I am starting to narrow them down as I begin to confirm the way that I like to shoot and post process the most. The market is very hot and competitive, so narrowing my tools down to a manageable amount has been a road that took some time. Mostly I’ve found that my main focus is on doing good, old-school classic photography, paying attention to composition, lighting, timing, subject, etc. and learning to use my particular camera to its best advantage. My favorite thing is to be able to shoot a picture well and not have to alter it at all. That may be by using my camera “straight” with a shooting app such as 645 Pro or PureShot, or using it with a shooting app that is filtered like Hipstamatic.
If after shooting I have something more elaborate in mind such as photo collage, I will use a graphic app like Deco Sketch or something with a more specialized look like Glaze. Then I will combine different photographic elements into one piece in Image Blender (still my favorite app for this kind of purpose), and slowly build it up till it feels done. These kinds of images can take weeks to make because I let them simmer between sessions of working on them. The process of making them is more like painting in that sense.
The main focus of your photography…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Everyone Come Down At Once”
Is Street Photography a genre that you predominately focus on in your work?
No, I tend to use my camera for many different subjects, not just what I see when I am in public. Private interiors and still life’s, portraits of people I know well and self-portraits, landscapes, objects, and imaginary things all are also a part of my adventures in photography. I would say a good quarter of my work is dedicated to street photography, but the rest is much more interior oriented.
Is street photography a genre in the art world?
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Crane and Commuters
Do you see street photography mainly as photojournalism? Or do you think that this genre intersects with the art world?
I think that what people call “street photography” originated in documentary photography, starting with what was published in newspapers to add to a story. And while that visual style continues to exist – clear, straightforward camera work which functions like stills from footage of an actual event – artists have also borrowed from documentary photography and film to use it as a jumping off point leading to more personal expression. Really in my opinion anything that we create cannot be unbiased, a photo must reflect the spirit of the person both shooting and editing what they captured. A historiography course that I took way back when I was an undergrad really opened my eyes to the realization that we can’t create anything completely unbiased, but boy do we yearn to take what we create as dogma. For example, when you shoot a photo you are omitting what else the eyes can see because the lens can only capture so much – even before you crop what you are looking at, the lens has already edited the scene in front of you. What is going on around the edges that you didn’t capture? Could it be equally important? More important? By the time the photo is published, you’d never be able to tell. In a news story, that’s where the writer comes in, and of course writing too is not an unbiased art, even if its main purpose is to report incontestable facts. There is no way that we can see everything all at once and give a complete picture of what we are witnessing. So in this sense, yes, I think that photojournalism is also a creation – only differing perhaps in the conceit that it is “pure” and “truthful.” Whereas art photography makes no such claims.
Street Photography Ethics…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Bus Passenger”
There is a general question among some people about the morals and ethics of taking pictures of strangers in a public environment. Many think that this is an infringement of an individual’s rights and privacy. What are your thoughts on this? Has the question about “privacy” been an issue for you in your work? Have you had any negative experiences taking street photographs in your home country or whilst traveling abroad? How did you handle them?
I am lucky in that I have never had any negative experience taking photos of people in public so far. The closest I ever get to people though is when they are sitting across from me in a public place. A mobile phone is very discreet and it is easy to not be obvious when you want to capture a stranger. Should I ever get confronted however, I would delete the photo without an argument.
In terms of the kinds of photos I take, I take what inspires me. People in distress do not inspire me to whip out my camera. Mostly I try to use my best judgment about when and who I photograph, and be as respectful as I would want others to be towards me when in public.
In terms of rights and privacy, that is a legal issue and you need to know the laws of the land you’re in before you start snapping away. In the United States photographers are protected if they are in a public place.
Personal preferences while on a photo shoot…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Red Bag”
What kind of situations, characters, and/or environments appeal to you? Why?
I like to photograph environments whether there are people in them or not. To me a place without people retains a kind of echo, a shadow of when they were there and what they were doing. Simultaneously, it has its own distinct character as a place, and in this way has merit as a subject, independently of its human inhabitants.
Women’s perspective in street photography…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Look Into My Eyes”
Do you think that women bring to photography, especially street photography, a certain perspective that is not necessarily shared by many male photographers? If so, can you elaborate on your thoughts?
You know I can’t really comment confidently on that, however if I were a curator of street photography as a profession, I am sure I would have something credible to say about the subject.
Women street photographers who have influenced you…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Amusing Bus Ads”
Are there any women street photographers/photo journalists who have inspired you in your work? If so, who are they? And what inspires you about their work?
My inspiration doesn’t really come from the work of other photographers, since I came to it late I have a lot to learn about its history and major players. I’m really just inspired by what I see and how I feel and think, and also the range of things you can do with a camera and in post process. However, there are some photographers whose style and manner of expression I really like and can relate to: Brassai because he loved to shoot at night, one of my favorite times of day to photograph. André Kertész because he was an explorer in method and subject, I just love his vision, how he saw things. Francesca Woodman, who was not a street photographer at all, but whose work has a distinct and personal voice, and is very unlike any photography I’ve ever seen. Technically, I particularly like Woodman’s use of multiple exposure and black and white film. I’ve added shooting with LongExpo, and processing after with Pure Carbon as one of my workflows when I am shooting street, inspired by her technique of black and white multiple exposure. I think that if you like a technique you should try it with whatever you are doing, even if it’s a technique not traditionally used in that genre or field.
Post processing images…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Reading”
What are your thoughts on post-processing mobile street images? Do you post process your images? Can you share with us an example of your workflow process?
Since I’m not a traditionalist about photography, I don’t have a problem with post processing. Sometimes I post process my street images, but most of the time I don’t, merely because I like the freedom and challenge of shooting an image so well I don’t have to do anything else to it. Having this method of shooting available also provides a rest from the more intensive collage type of work that I do, where I might post process with many different apps before I complete a piece.
The apps I use most for the “one shot deal” are 645 Pro, Hipstamatic, Hueless, LongExpo, and recently I’ve been picking up KitCam for its more funky lenses like Fisheye (less conspicuous than Olloclip when shooting in public), Multiple Exposure (it can shoot up to 6 exposures and combine them into one image), and Split Lens (really wacky for street photography). For post processing, I really like the apps that force you to work in camera before you complete your shot, like LongExpo and Pure Carbon. Those two in particular I find very intuitive and easy to use, and because of this they help to keep me in the frame of mind I like to be in when I shoot street. In other words, shoot well from square one and use minimal and quick post processing, if desired at all.
Please share some images and what your thoughts about them are…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Scooter Under the Hat”
This is a typical example of me playing with Hipsta, on random, while moving (the bus was anyway), using double exposure, and an attitude of anything can happen. And “anything” did. I turned the camera after I shot the inside of the bus, and got as my second exposure this super girlie girl in pink on the sidewalk nearby, on her super girlie girl scooter. Looking at this image afterward, it makes me laugh because the guy in the initial exposure doesn’t realize there’s a miniature pink sidewalk fairy riding her commuting vehicle right behind him.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Boardwalkers”
This was a visit to the Santa Monica amusement park on the pier at night with a new friend I met through AMPt who was in town for the occasion. Being both shutterbugs of course we were snapping all over the place, up round the ferris wheel and down, through the amusement park, and then on the pier. Always wanting to push my camera to its limits where it’s weak, I decided to try some shots with very low light (and a hipsta filter chosen at random, as usual) as people were walking back and forth on the pier. So this is one of the results of that experience, capturing the crowds in semi-darkness as they were enjoying themselves going from one entertaining thing to another.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Watching The Train Leaving Without You”
I like to capture typical and in a way humorous situations when I’m on the street. This is one of them. A lone guy rushing down a long escalator hoping to catch the train, and stopping in mid rush as he noticed he wasn’t going to make it (and I did too because I had my camera ready). I was playing with the KitCam split lens on the way home, so I got that disappointment and sudden slowing of pace – in double!
Artistic goals and inspirations…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Amusement Park Visitors”
What are your personal artistic goals and aspirations?
My main goal is to continue to refine what it is that I want to express in the way that feels most natural and joyful to me. Until late 2009, finding my own voice artistically kept me from exhibiting or sharing my work with anyone outside of friends and family.Part of that discovery process has been to learn when to work, when it’s most productive. Some people call that “finding the muse.” I’ve learned to understand when that voice is likely to be most on the surface and ready to manifest itself in something tangible. I’ve also learned to trust that it’s always there. And to really surrender to it when it’s at its strongest, let it take you where it’s going to take you, and guide it with your will only some of the time. Trying to put that voice in the right vehicle and express it in the most effective way is something I will probably always be working on.
Related to that endeavor, I want to continue to master my knowledge of the media I chose to the extent that I need to, to do the kind of work that I need to do. There is so much to learn in the world and so many ways to say things, it can be easily overwhelming if you think about it too much. What I feel I really need to do at this point is to continue to focus even more intently on a specific subset of that universe, media and techniques that suit my voice and manner of working very well. However, since I love experimenting and also have this habit of diving in and exploring before I know a lot about what I am dealing with (hazardous materials aside), whatever media I work in has to allow for a certain amount of unpredictability. It has to add something of its own to the dialogue that is not too easy to figure out.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Dog Walker On Crosswalk”
Are there any artistic aspirations that you have for the mobile street photography genre overall?
I’d like to see the community to continue to bend and break the old rules for street photography, and go beyond them. There are a myriad of ways to create, use media, show it – why does anything need to be repeated in exactly the same way that someone else did it in the past? Each person has their own eyes, their own unique view. If people are convinced of that fact, and work very hard to manifest it, really interesting art will always be created, even in fields that have a long history of using a tool or technique in a very specific, limited, and hallowed way.
Social Media Platforms…
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Night Signs”
Where do you show your work? What social networks are you on? On which platforms are you most involved?
I can be found on many of the more popular platforms under odilonvert, and I share a bit on each, sometimes work, sometimes discussion, sometimes both. My desire and intention though is to show my main and major work on my blog at WordPress: odilonvert.com. I am also keeping an ongoing experiment in a sort of freestyle narrative on Tumblr, and a smaller batch of writing on Backspaces. I post all my video work on Vimeo. My iPhone photos are shared the most on iPhoneArt.com (IPA), Flickr (mostly for Streets Ahead), and Oggl, where I curate a HUGE amount of photos, many more than I post.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Correcting And Grading Graffiti”
Do you have any mobile street photography tips or tricks that you’d like to share with us?
Shoot what interests you. Use a fast and intuitive app. Try different techniques fearlessly, and don’t be afraid to ignore the past and be unconventional, find your own voice and follow it. Marvel at what you capture and share it so others can enjoy it and talk about it with you.
© Jennifer Sharpe, “Engrossed And Not So Much”
Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
Only that I would like to say thank you for the opportunity to do this interview, and to share my work and words. I’m truly thrilled to be a part of the Streets Ahead collective.