Jessie Thatcher’s Photography


Jessie is an artist friend (whom I met through Miriam Dym and our shared project, Submit for Riff).

Jessie’s work explores how we see and organize the world visually. She presses against the limits of our narrow primate vision, bending forms, breaking habits, through photographs, drawings, collage.

She took the time to answer the questions I posed when I introduced this topic in Reading for Our Eleventh Meeting on March 30, 2016 — ART: PHOTOGRAPHY.

Here is what she said:


Can art function as a “religion,” as some people claim?

When I think of religion, I think of rule following and when I think of art, I think of rule breaking. But, there is an implied set of aesthetic rules when making art and an artistic practice could be considered a religious one. I just don’t know…it depends on what your perception of religion is and how you view art. I’m not a religious person, but I guess I do find a type of spirituality in making art and viewing art. I think of art as more of a conversation than a preaching device. Those who want to join into the conversation, that’s welcomed, and it’s also fine if people don’t.

Can a painting, a song, a sculpture, a performance, even a photograph, give us meaning?

Yes, I think so. When I think of the word “meaning” applied to art, I translate the word to “heightened experience.”

As an artist I am constantly asking myself why did I choose this lifestyle, why couldn’t I have chosen a more practical occupation? Is art important?

Through experience we can answer these questions. For instance, the answer to my questions about the meaning of art took an act of walking into a real estate office. I walked into this completely deserted office and developed this strong reaction to this isolated room in space, shocked by its one- dimensionality; the beige walls mix into the brown floors, completely devoid of art, family pictures poorly hung and cheaply printed, there was no aesthetic reflection in this office, unless it was a fascist one. This beige- khaki pants office was the answer to me, this little office was an isolated representation to me of what the world might look like if there wasn’t any art, and it was awful. It was boring and stagnant. I realized then and there that I might not make much money being an artist, but I do live a visually rich life, and to me that adds so much meaning. And by visually rich, I mean, I am actively looking all the time, whether I’m making art, or working a menial job, I am constantly observing and arranging.

What do representations of the natural world do for our particular species of primate, homo sapians?

We are programed to scan our environments very quickly. Just try and focus on one object for more than a second, it’s very hard. Our eye movements are programed to scan quickly and we don’t focus in one area for very long. It’s a human glitch! So yes, I think we do need pictorial references– isolated documents of time–to slow us down, and look. I think the “meaning” or resonance comes along after the fact, it’s when you encounter whatever that artwork was referring to in your daily experience. I think artwork does add meaning to our lives.

Why do we seek them so avidly? Why do they fill us with longing? Make us shiver? Sometimes even change us forever?

I had a “shiver” response once! A couple years back, I visited an Agnes Martin exhibition and the gallery room was filled with all of her pastel line paintings and I got shivers. I’m not sure why I got shivers, but I strongly reacted to that work.

When I think about my process as an artist, it’s primarily a nonverbal process. So it makes sense to me that we have nonverbal reactions to some artworks.


Here is a small selection of Jessie’s marvelous work. (You can see more on her website



“Continuously Recorded”

“The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time. In a world ruled by photographic borders (“framing”) seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently. (Conversely, anything can be made adjacent to anything else.” Susan Sontag, “On Photography”

“Continuously Recorded” arose from questions about what is a camera and when is the documentation of an image no longer considered photography?

While in school I took a visual communications class, and I remember the instructor saying that there is a “right” way to crop a portrait or person for a film composition, he said, “Don’t crop a portrait mid-eyeball, it’s disturbing.’ That’s what led me into “disturbing” cropping methods and compositions.

In this series I do not use a camera, only a scanner, pencil, and a razor blade. Upon creating this series, I was thinking about the role of the grid in contemporary art; I wanted to reinterpret the grid by dissecting it, and use it as a means to reinterpret the photographic medium. I am deconstructing the grid and using it as a tool to deconstruct the traditional notions of viewing and making an image. As a viewer I want to struggle at what I am seeing. With this body of work, I honestly don’t know how many copies it is from the original work of art? It doesn’t matter. The initial work of art and reproduction becomes raw material for this abstract photographic composition.

— Jessie Thatcher


Jessie also pointed us towards this endearing interview with David Hockney, in which he talks about the end of chemical photography with the advent of Photoshop.

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