[Today’s featured artwork for Day 98 of the 365 Days Project is by Zev Jonas.]
We all know the effect art can have on the viewer. But what is the impact of the work on the one who creates it?
#98 – Contemplating a work of art is not the same as creating it.
There are two sides to experiencing a creative effort. As a viewer, we appreciate a work of art, allowing it to move us and challenge us (or not), based on our personal resonance which may or may not reflect the intent of the artist. But when artists create their work, they derive their experience of the piece during the process of creation, rather than after the final outcome. So the question, “What’s the artwork about?” often cannot be easily expressed.
A mentor of mine once told me, “A great work of art will stand on its own. It doesn’t need the artist in front of it, explaining the meaning and imposing his intent on the audience.”
This is precisely what is so intriguing about the work of photographer Zev Jonas. None of the images are titled or dated and the location of the shoot is purposely nebulous. During our email conversation about his work, Jonas was reluctant to provide further information that might give away the meaning. “I try not to say too much as I want to give the viewers the opportunity to interpret the work themselves,” he told me. “I prefer to allow people to interact with the images in their own space and with no preconceived notions as to what it is they are seeing.”
He did, however, offer a bit of his background to provide the context for his work. Born and raised in Australia, Jonas began using photography as a means of articulating his feelings of isolation and loneliness encountered while traveling.
“Since settling in New York,” said Jonas, “I further explored the idea of solitude by looking at the way we view and interact with other animals, our environment and each other.”
The Condition is a fascinating series that combines raw beauty with an underlying, and often confrontational, message. Even before reading his biography, I immediately recognized the issues of our deteriorating relationship with the natural world and an overwhelming sense of detachment and isolation. I also saw that symbolism extending to our relationship with each other, and perhaps even society’s relationship with its artists and creatives. As a viewer, Zev Jonas’ images evoked some personal revelations which may inform some of the decisions I make in the future, although Jonas admits that art is not necessarily a straightforward call to action.
Aside from my personal interpretation, I was curious to know how this powerfully emotional series affected the artist. So I asked Jonas if working on these images eventually offered any kind of personal resolution, revelation or incentive for him to live differently.
“This body of work took a number of years to shoot, edit and print,” Jonas explained. “For me, the act of making and presenting the art was part of the resolution, although I don’t think what I am addressing will unfortunately ever be fully resolved.”
It is through the creative process that Jonas experiences the effects of his work.
“Through identifying the nature of the work,” he continued, “it did reinforce the way I see things – the notion that you can be in close proximity to something but have a complete lack of connection. But I wouldn’t say that it changed me or provided any incentive for me to live differently since I have always lived within a framework that supports my beliefs in animal rights and environmental issues.”
By choice, Zev Jonas has been vegetarian for almost 30 years even though he is only 37, and his artwork has benefited the Nature Conservancy.
“Over half the series was shot without a defined focus in mind,” said Jonas, who keeps the process surprisingly simple. He shoots 35mm film and transparencies, playing on the available light and reflection in the setting, then scans and prints the images with minimal alteration. “I would simply shoot how I saw the world and then found a consistent voice in the images that related a story and a sensibility that needed to be explored further.”
So now I leave all of you to interpret the work as you will. It’s the greatest gift an artist can offer the viewer.
Description of the images included in this post:
All photographs from the series: The Condition
Zev Jonas, New York (Australia)
The 365 Days Project
In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.
Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.