Cynthia Reeser (Tampa Review Online): You are a writer as well as a photographer, and I’d like to start by asking you about your influences for photography. Could you talk about that some?
Jéanpaul Ferro: I have been writing novels, short fiction, and poetry for a long time—it’s going on thirty years now. While I have had several books of poetry and short fiction published, I am solely concentrating on my novels going forward.
I look at my photography in much the same way I do my writing. It’s those upper echelon photographers who inspire me. My greatest influence is the surrealism of the great Tom Chambers. Tom is a master at taking photographs and digitally combining and alternating them into a seamless, surreal photograph. There is no one who is doing what Tom is doing right now.
While I never alter my photographs, I try to find surreal images. I call them “found photographs”—images that are there every day, that are somewhat surreal—things we pass by sometimes without noticing, but which, in actuality, are extraordinary. Elliot Erwitt and Martin Parr are two of my other big influences, although my photographs tend to have a much darker side then their photography does.
CR: Do you draw from the same well of inspiration when you’re taking pictures as you do when writing, or does photography entail something of a different process for you?
JF: With writing you have so many different elements that have to come together to make a whole. To create a novel you need the genesis of an idea, and then larger-than-life characters, different settings and scenes, dialogue, a plot, an arc to the novel, and so many different obstacles. Creating a novel is sort of like putting a giant jigsaw puzzle together. Poems and short stories are simply smaller puzzles. And you usually get inspired to write them from your own personal experience of loss or joy.
With photography you get inspired by something unexpected. It’s harder to get a great photograph if you go out looking for one. Even if you do go out seeking a certain shot, you need to frame that photo differently from other photographers to make it capture the imagination. In writing, there is a lot of planning before the final outcome. In photography, while there is some timing and planning involved, much of the time it is simply being at the right spot at the right time and always being ready to find something special you can capture on film. Many times the photographs find me. I just have to be ready, willing, and able.
CR: Would you say that there is something that you strive for in your photographic work?
JF: I always strive to make the viewer feel something with a photograph. It can be a feeling of loss, a feeling of awe or hopelessness, or simply something that makes you smile. I never want to hit people over the head with something. I just want something of beauty.
CR: Do you have an artist’s philosophy regarding photography?
JF: I do have an artist’s philosophy regarding photography. It should be like a painting. A moment in time captured that will soon fade away. The way light falls in a shot, or the way an inanimate object twists or turns, or the way the shadows fall upon it. The shot should evoke some sort of haunting quality. A great photograph should be a landscape, a portrait come to life, a 3-D painting, if you will. If a photograph doesn’t move you, and those who view it, then you’ve failed as an artist. At least, that’s my philosophy.
CR: In your opinion, what should photography do for the viewer?
JF: A photograph should be like a Bob Dylan song: it should make you think. A good photograph should make you linger on it for a while. See all the different angles and the small sightlines that are there. It should grab you by the throat and make you question it—for good or for bad.
CR: Is there a point at which your photography and your writing intersect, or are they more separate from one another?
JF: Strangely, I find many of my photographs wind up reflecting something I’ve already written. I’ve had about twenty of my photographs featured in a literary journal or magazine with one of my short stories or poems. It’s strange how that works out. I’m sure it is something subconscious. But I think writers and photographers both have the same sort of eye. I feel photography, fiction, and poetry are inherently interlinked, more than most people would think. Every photograph is a short story or a poem, and vice-versa. It’s just how the universe works.
Jéanpaul is finishing up his latest novel, Midnight City, a raucous look at the haunting underbelly of Hollywood and the factory machine of L.A.
Visit Jéanpaul Ferro on the web at: www.jeanpaulferro.com
Jéanpaul Ferro is a novelist, short fiction author, and poet from Providence, Rhode Island. A nine-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has appeared on National Public Radio and in Contemporary American Voices, Tulane Review, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Cleveland Review, Cortland Review, Portland Monthly, Arts & Understanding Magazine, Saltsburg Review, Hawaii Review, and others. He is the author of All the Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994); Becoming X (BlazeVOX [books], 2008); You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009); Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009); Essendo Morti – Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), which was nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011), nominated for both the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and the 2012 Griffin Prize in Poetry. He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Visit him online at www.jeanpaulferro.com.
Cynthia Reeser is the Founder and Publisher of Aqueous Books, and Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prick of the Spindle literary journal. She has published more than 100 reviews in print and online, as well as poetry and fiction in print and online journals. Her short stories are anthologized in the Daughters of Icarus Anthology (Pink Narcissus Press, 2013), and in Follow the Blood: Tales Inspired by The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (Sundog Lit, 2013). Cynthia is currently working on a literary short story collection inspired by fairy tale lore. Also a senior editor for two association management companies, she lives and works in the Birmingham area and attends the University of Tampa in pursuit of her MFA in Creative Writing (fiction). Visit her on the web at www.cynthiareeser.com.