Interview #29: Jare Israel (2022)
Jare Israel (@jare.israel) is a photographic artist searching for spiritual and psychological growth through the medium of monochrome photography. He lives in the front range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where he also works as a nurse. When not making photographs, he enjoys reading books on religion, philosophy and creativity, writing poetry, and spending time with his two Boston terriers: Captain and Belly Bear.
Here is Charles David Corbin’s interview with him…
CDC／Please tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did you become a photographer?
JI／My interest in art began in my formative teenage years, primarily through the media of photography, poetry and painting, but I approached each as nothing more than fun hobbies. As time progressed, my interest in photography and wilderness adventure grew exponentially, leading naturally into what I would now characterize as the pursuit of photographic trophies. As I matured artistically, I abandoned this mindset with the understanding that although trying to capture peak moments in grand landscapes may have been an early stepping stone on my artistic journey, it was nothing more.
Photography has since evolved into a form of walking meditation, a contemplative practice that integrates directly into my daily life. I now feel that the best use of the camera is as Minor White said: “a means of self-discovery and of self-growth” (in “The Eye that Shapes”), utilizing the photographic medium as the means, and a life enlivened by the Art Spirit as the end goal. Artist Robert Henri relayed a powerful message when he said:
Art is the inevitable consequence of growth and is the manifestation of inner development that stands as a signpost marking the progress of the human spirit towards a thing that is sensed but is far from being possessed.
— Robert Henri, in “The Art Spirit”
Living an authentic art life means searching endlessly for progression and meaning amidst life’s chaos, even when the path ahead is beyond our understanding and shrouded in darkness. The reward is discovered in the unprecedented psychological and spiritual growth that can result from traversing this path as it transforms itself into a well lived Art Life.
CDC／You photograph exclusively in black and white. Tell us why you’ve made that choice — who or what has influenced you and how have those influences shaped your style?
JI／Even during the early stages of my artistic journey, I had difficulty understanding why the bright colorful images taken by popular “influencers” on social media could seize attention in such a dramatic fashion, but had little ability to hold it.
It wasn’t until I experienced the monochromatic work of Minor White, Edward & Brett Weston, and Aaron Siskind that I began finding the answers that I had been searching for. The work of these photographers didn’t jump out at me initially, but began making more and more sense as time passed, revealing a depth of meaning reminiscent of the timeless Zen koans (公案), but how could this be? In modern color theory, each color has corresponding emotions, but artist and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky explains in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art:
“Black is the color of mystery, death and the profound final pause, and White symbolizes a world far above our own, a spotless world of perfection and a silence pregnant with possibilities”.
— Wassily Kandinsky, in “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”
Is it possible that instead of human emotional states, black-and-white may hint at something of a more spiritual nature? While it’s true that color photography has the ability to record objective beauty and even emotion in a powerful manner, I believe that black-and-white photography, when functioning in its highest capacity, becomes a deeply penetrating spiritual practice, capable of revealing the innermost qualities of not only the subject, but also that of the artist.
Striving towards this ideal is why I feel that this type of photography is not only the most difficult pursuit in this field, but also the most worthwhile.
CDC／Most of your images focus on producing natural abstractions, but you photograph urban decay as well. What do you find compelling about these two subjects? Do you find similarities between them?
JI／I used to go to great effort with my composition and choice of lens focal length to cut any sign of man from my photographs, a decision based on the belief that mankind was a blight upon pristine nature, and quite simply “wrecking the place”. While today I still can’t fully disagree with this assessment, I now view photography so much differently that my search for particular subject matter is of little consequence. I have found meaning resonating from within the wood grain of a twisted tree high in the mountains, ice forming along the edge of a frozen creek, rust eroding an iron beam in the heart of a city, or even discarded trash.
What I now refer to as “subject resonance” is an unmistakable feeling that begins with a recognition of the underlying form and potential story of a given subject. It feels to me as if the subject has its own dynamic presence, and is trying to act out its life’s drama in a visual language, and I must do my best to listen, contemplate and communicate, before formulating an artifact from the experience.
CDC／I’ve read that you have lost part of your vision, which in a way helps you to compose your images. Can you tell us more about how your process is informed by your vision loss?
JI／When I was eighteen, I suffered a significant injury to my right eye as the result of a serious car accident, and to this day the eye remains legally blind. I am only able to make out blurred shapes, and with the details being stripped away, the overall form takes precedence. This unfortunate accident has resulted in what I have come to view as an unexpected gift, this “ability” that my right eye possesses allows me to design each photograph based solely on the raw form, rather than getting caught up in the subject matter or surface detail.
When making a photograph, I peer through the viewfinder with my right-eye for composition, then use my left-eye to set the manual focus and exposure. This peculiar balance has led me to what I believe is a very strong and unique way of seeing, with form rising prominently to its rightful place above subject matter.
CDC／Your reference to Minor White (a student of Zen Buddhism) and to monochrome photography as a sort of visual koan clearly resonates with you. I suspect you share a similar philosophy with White, which makes me wonder what role it plays in your life outside of photography, and whether you actively practice a form of meditation in the field.
JI／I was raised in a strict Christian household, and to this day have little doubt of God’s existence, but do feel a sense of skepticism towards organized religions in general. With that said, I actively practice meditation and secular Buddhism, and continue to study books on religion, spirituality, and philosophy on my own search for truth and meaning.
When I am out in the field making photographs, my approach is that of a mindfulness practice, as I attempt to cultivate what Zen Buddhism refers to as “beginner’s mind”. This mindset is free and open in each and every moment, abandoning all preconceived ideas, hopes or plans, while remaining sensitive to that which is encountered.
As you can imagine, this is extremely difficult to sustain for any length of time, but is incredibly useful to keep coming back to, amidst the constant barrage of thoughts that typically occupy this space. In addition, this openness to new experiences can result in unexpected new directions for projects which can be incredibly exciting.
CDC／Your statement “with form rising prominently to its rightful place above subject matter” is quite contentious and often cited as an insurmountable criticism of abstraction. I wonder if that is always true, and what role the subject plays in your work. This may be a point of departure between you and White, who believed that an image’s purpose is to portray the emotion elicited by the subject.
JI／To be clear, I am not saying that subject matter doesn’t matter — I simply believe that the overall aesthetic valuation should be based upon the inherent quality of form instead of what we already know the subject to be. Alfred Stieglitz, when discussing his equivalents, said:
“When looking at an abstraction, one becomes free to see the actual relationships and worries less about subject-matter — true meaning comes through more directly without extraneous representational factors.”
— Alfred Stieglitz, in “On Photography”
Where critics of abstract art may see an image without easily identifiable subject matters as directionless chaos, I believe that form, rather than being the subject’s literal truth, can nonetheless guide the feeling and meaning that we distill from the artwork.
This understanding really began solidifying for me through my most recent photography project exploring the abstractions and relationships that are created as snow melts around trash left on the ground. The forms discovered within this decidedly worthless subject gave rise to very positive feelings within me — feelings that were quite different from what the subject conveyed on an objective level — revealing to me that although the subject was quite literally trash, it had shown itself to be elegant, meaningful and even, dare I say, beautiful?
The divide between those who love abstract art and those who see it as meaningless nonsense is an incredibly interesting one, and I think that Robert Bly was on the right path to understanding why when he said:
“The artist takes the viewer to the edge of a cliff, as a mother eagle takes her nestling, and then drops him. Viewers with a strong imagination enjoy it, and discover that they can fly, while others fall down to the rocks where they are killed instantly”.
— Robert Bly, in “Tundra: the Journal of the Short Poem”
This concept most directly applies to abstract art, and the viewers who trust their own imaginative faculties and are willing to participate in forming their own subjective interpretations find great enjoyment and personal meaning in the process. While those who get too caught up in the objective properties alone quickly reach an unfortunate and untimely end.
CDC／You critique the ability of popular photography on social media to grab, rather than hold, our attention, which is the antithesis of your personal artistic style and vision. What roles — good or bad — have social media platforms had in shaping your work?
JI／Thankfully I don’t see social media playing much of a role in my own creative direction, but do understand how it could for many photographers. I have no interest whatsoever in making the dramatic, highly saturated, grand landscape type of photographs that I know do well on social media, choosing instead to make only the photographs that my heart leads me to create.
I am well aware that these black and white, abstract, and often confounding photographs will never garner the attention of the majority, and will for the most part be met with indifference, or perhaps a raised eyebrow. Years ago this bothered me deeply as I searched for a receptive audience, but I have since come to the realization that even if I am the only one to find a photograph meaningful, I would still consider that a success.
Although I do have many quibbles with social media platforms, I continue to find them incredibly valuable means of sharing one’s artwork to the world. Even when taking into consideration the often crippling algorithms that restrict one’s network, the ability to share a photograph that within seconds can be seen by someone in an entirely different country is incredible, and it’s something that artists from only twenty years ago would envy.
The connections that I have established through Instagram with fellow travelers and kindred spirits is also quite wonderful — in fact I discovered this wonderful Hintology photography community through that platform.
CDC／What’s next for you? Where do you see your photography heading and what are your future goals?
JI／I plan to continue learning more about the arrangement and completion of finished projects while further developing my understanding of photographic sequencing on a given theme. This stands in opposition to the often incongruent single image “greatest hits” type of photography that we have all practiced at one time or another.
My first foray into this concept will be accomplished through what I am calling “poetic photography sequences”. These small focused projects will be a melding of photographs and poetry, and will be available either as free PDF downloads, or as a small handheld artist’s books.
I remain leery of making specific and concrete goals, as this can contradict my overall life philosophy, which attempts to abandon the expectations that inevitably form with the setting of goals. But I do have an overriding meta-goal, which is to work diligently to live a life based on authenticity, and to never stop growing as I search for truth in this chaotic life of questions.
Jare Israel is a photographic artist searching for spiritual and psychological growth through the medium of monochrome photography. He lives in the front range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where he also works as a nurse.
When not making photographs, he enjoys reading books on religion, philosophy and creativity, writing poetry, and spending time with his two Boston terriers: Captain and Belly Bear.
Interview by Charles David Corbin.
Hintology is an abstract photography magazine project created in August 2020 which strives to create a community where every artists are given a chance to broadcast their voice, the aspiring just as much as the established. We are a small team of volunteers who rely on the passion and contributions of their community to help spread the beauty and diversity of abstract photography. If you share our vision of inclusiveness and inquisitiveness, you can make a difference by tagging your work with #Hintology on Instagram, or by following our page and joining our group on Facebook. If you appreciate our curative work and the interviews we conduct, please do consider donating via this link; all funds will go towards printing the first physical edition of the magazine.
Visit Hintology.org for all the links.