Jocelyn Lee: The Appearance of Things

In her series The Appearance of Things, artist Jocelyn Lee recalls an often forgotten fact: humans are part of nature.
She combines still life images with portraits of nude women posing in the middle of greenery, in a Victorian style that adds to the sweetness and melancholy of her work.
Jocelyn shares with us the genesis of this series, its evolution, and the creation of a work in general.

Hello Jocelyn, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m a contemporary photographer and I work in all genres, still life, landscape and portrait. I’ve historically worked mostly in portraiture but with the newest body of work, The Appearance of Things, the mingling of genres became critical to the meaning of the work. I live in Maine and many of my images are made in this dramatic landscape. I also photograph exclusively in film with a medium format camera.

“The same magic curiosity around how the camera renders the world, which I felt so clearly at 18, still compels me today.”

Dark Matter #2 (Pomegranate and Hosta), 2016 – All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

How did you start photography?

I began photographing in high school and immediately was transfixed by the medium. I spent hours and hours in the darkroom and I’ve never looked back. The excitement I have today when I get new film back is the same excitement I felt in the small black and white darkroom in high school. The same magic curiosity around how the camera renders the world, which I felt so clearly at 18, still compels me today.

“[…] was this a landscape or a portrait?”

Milk and Sap, 2017 – All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

How did your series “The Appearance of Things” start?

I was recently married and I didn’t want to throw my wedding flowers away so I put them in a big bucket of water in my yard. Each day I went out to look at them and was amazed by how they changed–they became diaphanous, heavy, fell a part, and sank at different rates from one another and in dramatically different ways.

The quality of the sunlight also changed and illuminated the flower bodies in different ways that were very beautiful. I immediately realized I had the subject matter for a new body of work and began to make these images.

“The body of work is about the rise and fall of at the body from birth to bloom to death […]”

At the same time I was making portraits of women in the landscape, mostly naked and quite surreal, sometimes altering focus so that the subject was out of focus and the landscape was in focus, which questioned the nature of the genre: was this a landscape or a portrait? Soon I made the decision to show all this work together: the dark matter series or the floating still life images in water, the surreal portraits of nudes in the landscape, and the landscape images.

The Woods Near the Quarry, 2016 – All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

I find that your images release a certain softness, while having a darker side: we can feel the themes of death, of time passing, and at the same time, you show us the beauty of the human body and its link with nature. What do you want to communicate through this series?

That is exactly the reading I am interested in. I want the work to be seductive and beautiful but clearly about the transient nature of the material world. It is clearly all about being “embodied” in human form, plant form, animal form, and then the inevitable decay of all of this. The body of work is about the rise and fall of at the body from birth to bloom to death, and also our unavoidable connection to all earthly material.

“My best pictures are rarely the ones I intend to make.”

All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

Where do you get your inspiration?

Anywhere I can but frequently from film or books. Not as much from other photographers.

What is your creative process? Do you build the image in your head according to the model?

That’s a very good question. I am a “pre-visualizer” in that I do have an idea in my mind before I make a photograph, but I am also very open to unpredictable and spontaneous things happening. My best pictures are rarely the ones I intend to make.

I will start a shoot with one idea, but then notice a million other more interesting things going on (light, wind, temperature, movement of the model, other things occurring) and I will change the shoot to respond to that new stimulus and subject matter.

“It takes focus, clarity of vision and practice and good editing.”

Dark Matter #3 (Wedding Flowers), 2015 – All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

What kind of equipment do you work with?

100% by choice and always film with my RB67 medium format Mamiya camera. I will also sometimes use the Mayima 7.

“You have to edit in service of the larger intelligent story.”

You have been working on this series for many years. What do you think makes a good photo series?

Ah, that is an important question. I think the best photographers work in bodies of work that show their intelligence and focus over many images. It is relatively easy to make one or two good images. It is very very hard to make a whole body of work that reflects a single clear idea. It’s like writing a short story or a novel. It takes focus, clarity of vision and practice and good editing.

Winter Venus, 2016 – All photographs Copyright Jocelyn Lee, Courtesy Pace/MacGill

Do you have any advice for photographers wanting to start a series?

Yes, put all the work on the wall next to one another. Look at it every day. Look at it multiple times a day. Ideally this wall will be in a place you live and go to all the time. Notice what images speak to you and what images don’t. Notice what images look good next to other images and how the dialogue changes and develops when those images are together.

Ultimately you have to be willing to CUT images that don’t work. You can’t be greedy. You have to edit in service of the larger intelligent story. They must be linked conceptually and formally. That’s a real challenge.

Check out Jocelyn Lee’s work on her website, and follow her on Instagram