Jennifer Niederhauser Schulp Lausanne, Switzerland
Jennifer Niederhauser Schlup’s photographs are centred on a research on the duality between reality and perception. She is mainly interested in using the medium to question the viewer’s vision and preconception about what he believes he is seeing, thus emphasizing the constant vacillation between virtual and real. Jennifer graduated with a Master in Art Direction from the University of Art and Design Lausanne (Ecal) in 2012 and received her BFA in Photography from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2004. Her work has been exhibited in various exhibitions and publications. She is also the co-founder and co-editor of Adventice Editions.
Jennifer Niederhauser Schulp was chosen by Lydia Anne McCarthy
Laatikkomo’s interview with Jennifer Niederhauser Schulp November 25th, 2013.
L: Where are you from?
(What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?)
JNS: I am Swiss, Swiss German actually. But I grew up in many places, and never really felt like I identified with a specific one. After a few years abroad (Taiwan and The Ivory Coast) my family moved back to Switzerland when I was three years old, more precisely to Grandson on the border of Lake Neuchâtel. I grew up there until the age of sixteen when we moved to the Lake Geneva area. In 2000, right after graduating high school I left for Boston, where I lived for four years before moving back and settling in Lausanne, for the moment. All these places have influenced me, with their various cultures and languages; with the open-mindedness they taught me.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
JNS: One of my earliest memories of photography, are the images my parents brought back from the years we lived abroad. They were keen photographers, interested in the image but also in their documentary qualities, as keepsakes of their time there. I was really young and therefore had only little recollection of that time. But, it was very present during my childhood. I remember spending many hours looking at these images, to the point that they really became my own. When I would think about the few memories I had, I lost sense of which were real and which the photographs had triggered. To this date I have a few but very clear memories, visual memories, which I can not tell whether they are true or if they were created in my mind from the souvenir photographs. This is how, very early on, I witnessed the power images have and how they interfere with our mind.
L: Is there a specific moment or image that instigated your interest in what we perceive as real? (if there is, can you describe/tell about it?)
JNS: I guess this goes back to the previous question. However, when, as an adolescent, I became more interested in photography as the medium I wanted to pursue, it was mainly through photojournalism and documentary photography. I felt very passionate about politics, the happenings of the world and being a witness to that. I felt that people like Robert Capa or Don McCullin were crucial to bringing about change and justice. I was reading about Henri-Cartier Bresson and his idea of “the decisive moment”. I was young and a bit naïve; I believed that photography was mirroring reality, that it was the truth. It was later on, as I learnt about what was going on in the backstage of these images that I became interested in this duality. But if I could pinpoint it to one specific moment it would certainly be when I had the chance of following Larry Sultan giving a tour of his exhibition “The Valley” and telling the audience how he had replaced the head of one of his subjects by another, better one. It was as though my entire set of believes came tumbling down. I always had such admiration for his work, and believed he was a “straight” photographer. My admiration remains intact, and I do now fully understand! The more my technical skills improved and the more I learned about the history of photography, the more I was able to have an overview of the endless possibilities and tricks photography offers to deceive the viewer. The paradox between the theories of the index and the mimetic -photography’s value as an objective reproduction of reality- so deeply attached to the medium, and the pursuit of expression and emotion -photography as a way to engage with the “unseen” and otherworldly- has become the centre of my research and approach. I actually wrote my master thesis on this subject. My interest in the duality between reality and perception has also grown stronger as I have worked many years as a retoucher, manipulating and generating images almost out of nothing. It has made me realize that the more I manipulated and intervened on things, the more I was actually engaged with my surroundings, no longer just witness but actor. I had more power to share my vision, and to bring into question the viewer’s understanding. I see photography as a means that will lead the way to a new approach of reality, to a new outlook on the mundane and ordinary.
L: As you describe in your artist’s statement, your main interest is in playing with our perception of reality through the manipulation of your photographs. Has this alteration of objects and places skewed your memory of those subjects?
JNS: Yes, it has for sure. The outcome of an image is always the result of an idea, a vision or a message. There is a moment when the idea in your mind and the vision in front of you converge and become one. From that point on it becomes quite hard to differentiate which was which. It becomes a sort of ideal, blurring fact and imagination. It does not really matter where the truth ends. Isn’t the truth also more real when it is closer to what you want to say? Retouching, or altering your image in any way -whether it is moving things around physically or in postproduction- is sort of doing what the mind does on its own eventually anyways: things start to fade away and blur with one another so that what remains is the skeletal, the archetype of the image, its core. So yes it does skew my memory, just a little bit faster than it would eventually anyways.
L: Most of your images focus on an object, or a specific shape, some of your images are even repeatedly composed around a similar central form. Are you interested in making the object into a symbol?
JNS: I am interested in taking things out of their context, which gives them a completely other significance and brings them into a new discourse. In the images I believe you are referring to, I chose precise elements, which embodied a specific meaning; were symbolic of an idea, a place and an atmosphere. They were part of a larger body of work, “La Vallée”, which was an in-depth study of a specific region of Switzerland. They were a means to point to specific aspects in an indirect way, to isolate the things, which were for me iconic of that place. Taking these elements, most of them mundane or disregarded, out of their context was also a new way of questioning their reality and the significance of comprehensible facts. As every fact is one link of a chain in a specific discourse, when the context is lost, the very meaning of that fact’s existence and relevance is brought into question. Reality is always a point of view in regards to various factors and parameters, hence what is left when these are removed?
There is also something very powerful about the simplicity of a singular “object” with a central position; it forces the viewer to really look at that one thing and to see it just for what it is.
L: Many of your projects seem to showcase different types of architecture. What attracts you to buildings and other human-made structures?
JNS: There is always a human factor in my images and architectures and human-made structures are symbols of that: of the madness, the dreams and the conquest. They are a symbol of the control of man over his environment. They are imbued with a specific time and history and they belong to a specific place and story. They are a human prowess and often times nonsensical or absurd, which is what attracts me. I look for the extraordinary, the out of place, and the strange in our daily life. Concrete, massive or delicate these structures tell stories. Architectures, for example, affect the landscape in a way that is quite similar to my approach of photography: creating symbols, shaping things to represent an idea, an ideal world.
L: Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this series (shown in Laatikkomo)?
JNS: darkness, experimentation, absurdity, light, fading, lost, nonsensical, mind
L: What is one of the most important questions that you ask (or would like to inspire others to ask) through your photographs?
JNS: Don’t stop at the surface, look beyond, and keep looking until it becomes your own.
Thank you so much Jennifer!!