Interview with Jesse Chan

Rising, a New Day May 7 | Friday | 6:00–10:00 pm (with a live musical performance) May 8 | Saturday | 12:00–5:00 pm

Jesse Chan’s MFA Thesis show opening will take place at our LIC Studio tonight! Below is an interview I did with him through e-mail after Critique Class.

ST: In the photographs from your thesis show, I had very calm and beautiful feelings which are opposite impressions of what I have toward punk music. Can you talk about your process? How do you make pictures? Do you listen to this type of music on your iPod or something when you go shooting?

JC: The first is wandering around on foot or by car, on my own. I usually zone out mentally and pay attention to the scenes, but try to let spontaneity let things fall into place. I made the feather image while walking around trying to look for an image to make, frustrated because it was the end of the day and I hadn’t made a single image. Other times I will be out and about, hanging out with friends, with no real intention to make an image, but will have a camera nearby, and something will happen, with the light or scene and I’ll get stoked and run for the camera and make a snap. The image of the three guys with debris all over (Kings), along with the girl in the water (Turquoise), those are the most fun type of images to make. Lastly, and this is the hardest, to construct an image from in my head. I’ll usually either think of a subject and then a mood or feel that I am trying to shoot for. The new batch of still lives like the record stack (Dear You) and the girl in the snow landscape (Heaven Hill) were made in this manner.

JC: I usually avoid listening to music when I’m working. I get so into the tunes that I get distracted. The only exception is when I am driving. I‘ll usually listen to the bands Jawbreaker or Husker Du or the radio station WFMU.

ST: Also, you include a record player with music as part of an installation in the show. How do you want viewers to connect and experience your photographs and the music?

JC: What I love about music, all music, is that it seems to be this experience that everyone can easily connect with. For me, Husker Du’s New Day Rising was a record that was abstract and beautiful, but still had a fuzz and razor edge to it. In this show, I wanted the music to add a visceral mood to the space, something that could borderline destroy the beauty of the images or have the viewer question why this aggressive music was playing with this quiet mood – something opposing each other.

ST: Can you talk about your burned portfolio piece? How did you end up burning your portfolio?

JC: It started with an assignment in Nayland’s class that Dillon gave to me. I was to pick a song I was listening to and make a piece out of it. The original idea was a bunch of burned images ripped into an old cooking pot, full of ashes. The new piece originally started out as a photograph actually. In February with the big snow storm, I made a two-foot hole in my yard in NJ, put in a bunch of prints and lit it. After awhile, it set ablaze and I took a photo. After the fire went out only the ashes remained, melting into a square. When I made the print, it lacked both the immediate reaction and look that the fire and ashes had. It dawned on me that the object itself is the actual piece! It did not need to be a photograph.

ST: What kind of photographs were they? Did you have a special attachment to them? How did you feel while you were watching your prints burn?

JC: The pictures were from my undergrad at SVA along with some images from last semester at ICP. So in total from the past 4-5 years – a combination of success and failure. I had a lot of attachment to the SVA images. A lot of them were points that got me to where i am today in my art practice. Watching them burn felt like a good way to let go of this past practice, but more so of a practice that I kept on doing and made a lot of work that looked the same. It was strangely contemplative as well.

ST: In our critique class, a number of students talked about the New Jersey suburbs, your home town.I’m curious to know what kind of feelings you have towards your home town. Did you like growing up there? Did you always want to get out from the area? Did punk music play a roll as a mental escape from the everyday life in NJ?

JC: I actually love my home. Every one of my peers laughs at my native Jersey pride. I grew up loving NJ, but I also spent some of my early years in Hong Kong. Growing up there had the usual hang-ups of boredom on a Friday night. We would hang out around town, drinking coffee at diners, listening to random bands. I never really had the urgency to want to escape NJ. When I first moved to NY for undergrad, I hated it here, but over time I learned to love having this dual back and forth with being in NJ and NY. For me, punk is very associated with the area that the scene creates. So the people involved in NJ or NY would have their own culture, it was tribal-like years ago. It wasn’t really an escape because we all would be involved with the local scene, nurturing it. We all had pride with the scene and loved the local quality of it, so in the end no one was really using it as a mental escape. This part will sound angsty, but it did help me escape the drudgery of high school. The bands Weston, Descendents, and Black Flag saved me those years, mentally, because I could relate to the lyrics in some way.

ST: You will have your band play on your opening night. What is the band’s name and what will you play? How long you have been in the band?

JC: Haha, man we have no band name actually. Since my show is loosely based on the Husker Du record, New Day Rising, three of my good friends suggested we do some Husker Du cover songs. I’ve actually never really been in a band, but am heavily involved with these three friends in a music collective called Not Rock. It means a lot that they are involved, because these are the people I first started photographing, so it is like coming full circle. I will be trying to sing, but I’ll most likely be yelling and screaming.

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