‘We never stop learning’
Interview by Tom Livingstone
Artist: Jennifer Blau
Series Title: ‘Patricia’s Room’
Photography Courses completed: 12-Month Mentorship Program
When emerging artist Jennifer Blau enrolled in Contact Sheet’s 12-Month Mentorship this year, she found a “creative stimulus” with new opportunities to “challenge herself as an artist” and explore her emotions and creativity.
With works already featured at the State Library of NSW and several exhibitions in the Head On Photo Festival and Loud and Luminous among others, the professional art therapist was eager to delve into a longer-term body of work – something the mentorship program has helped countless photographers achieve.
“I’ve long had an interest in documenting different life transitions but also more generally about exploring story and identity in people who might be misunderstood or marginalised,” Jennifer says of her practice.
With a keen interest in the therapeutic benefits of photography, Jennifer spent 2020 creating Patricia’s Room.
The collection is an important and touching homage to her mother-in-law that she believes acted as a therapeutic activity the two women could share.
Jennifer feels the project also forces us to acknowledge the way we subconsciously perceive and react to the elderly when they are vulnerable.
Originally, Patricia’s Room explored how women are often made to feel worthless and invisible as they age.
“As my mother-in-law approached 90, I wondered what lay ahead and how she viewed herself,” Jennifer says.
“She was extremely elegant, glamorous and active, and challenged the stereotype of women at this age.”
But as Jennifer’s project with Patricia began, her mother-in-law underwent major heart surgery and her health started to decline with early signs of dementia beginning to show.
As is often the case with many long-term art projects, the narrative in Jennifer’s work with Patricia changed: “What happens to our sense of self when we lose our memory?”
But Jennifer says she felt compelled to get up close and examine Patricia slipping from strength to increasing fragility.
“To experience and capture precious moments before it was too late,” she says.
“As an art therapist, I understand that the process of making art is often healing in ways we are not always aware of, and this is often more important than the end result.”
Patricia’s physical health declined and her ability to communicate with words began to falter, but the regular meetings where her daughter-in-law would come to take her photo became a new, powerful way for her to connect, something Jennifer believes was cathartic for the pair.
While she admits it was hard to see someone you love in a state of decline and it at times felt intrusive to bring a camera into that space, Jennifer says Patricia’s Room was an opportunity to celebrate her mother-in-law’s beauty and humanity in various states of being, but also allowed the photographer to explore her own emotions and insecurities that stem from the knowledge that life is fleeting, and mortality is something we all must face.
“Often what we photograph is actually about ourselves: for me, possibly due to the loss of several other people close to me, (that is) insecurities about ageing and mortality,” Jennifer says.
While Patricia’s Room was challenging and at times confronting for Jennifer to create, she had ongoing support from her mentor Paul McDonald, as well as her fellow mentees and several guest artists involved with the mentorship program.
“It was great to have the feedback of a supportive group of other artists and be mentored by the guest artists,” Jennifer says.
“I gained a lot from observing other people’s journeys with their own projects - We never stop learning.”
To read Jennifer’s full interview, click here
To view the book online scroll down.
Enrolments are now open for all 2021 Mentorship Programs and Photography Courses at Contact Sheet.
If you would like further information contact one of our team at email@example.com or call 0410 315 865