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Women of Inspiration: The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Hosts Photographer Jo Whaley. An Interview With Jo.

photo-eye Gallery Women of Inspiration:
The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Hosts Photographer Jo Whaley.
An interview with Jo.
photo-eye Gallery Associate Juliane Worthington interviews represented artist Jo Whaley.
Jo Whaley, Smerinthus Saliceti, Archival Pigment Print, 20x24" Image, Edition of 15, Price Upon Request

Nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small--we haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

–Georgia O’Keeffe

Chaos reigns in the history of the earth with its cycles of creation and destruction. Yet there is solace in the staggering beauty to be found in nature.

–Jo Whaley

Georgia O’Keeffe is perhaps one of Santa Fe’s most celebrated artists. Having made New Mexico her home for the second half of her life, O’Keeffe attributes her success as an artist to being in the right place at the right time--making work that resonated with her audience and claiming even though she’s not the greatest painter in the world, she was lucky to contribute to the artist collective in such a impactful way.

Jo Whaley, also having made Santa Fe her home in the second half of her life, was given the extreme honor of exhibiting her photography alongside O’Keeffe’s paintings, at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum this winter. Echos, featuring Whaley’s work is on display through February 24, 2019. Whaley has always been a favorite among photo-eye represented artists for her unique ability to stage an image that seems rather impossible to execute. I’ve asked Jo to talk about her process, what it means to be paired up with such a woman of high esteem like Georgia O’Keeffe, and what she is dreaming up next! I hope you enjoy this interview with Jo, who is not only a brilliant photographer, but a beautiful person inside and out.

--Juliane Worthington, Gallery Associate

Installation view of Jo Whaley: Echos currently on view at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM.
Photo: InSight Foto Inc. / © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Juliane Worthington:     Jo, you began your artistic journey, after graduating with an MFA in painting and MA in visual design/photography from the University of California, Berkley. Later you worked as a scenic artist painting backdrops for theater. How did you connect that experience to the idea of creating mini scenes with otherwise unseen, or unappreciated insects and objects?

Jo Whaley:     It naturally occurred.  I was working on sets in the theater, and I started creating sets in my studio, which was in an old Dutch Boy paint factory in East Oakland.  For the early photographs, I painted backdrops, as in the theater--the tabletop for the still life became the proscenium stage.  The objects were the actors on the stage and their placement became the dialogue.  Then I used lighting with color gels, as in the theater, to breathe life into the inanimate set.

Jo Whaley at work in her studio.
Image: Greg Mac Gregor
Juliane:     Many viewers assume you use the Photoshop software to compose your images. Can you talk about your process of making these photographs?

Jo:     When I began, in the '80s and early ’90s, Photoshop was not really an option.  Adobe invited me to come to their campus and create images for them using Photoshop One.  I was underwhelmed, as it was slow and very limited! The printing options were not satisfying either, so I bailed.  I could work quicker and with more pleasure in the studio with my 4x5 view camera and film.  My training and discipline allowed me to create my vision in the construction of the set and all on one piece of film.  Later, when Photoshop and the printers improved, I hopped into the digital realm.  Photoshop is a great tool and the nuance and control in printing is a vast improvement over color darkrooms.  Out of habit, I still try to get everything right in the construction of a set, as I prefer moving about the studio rather than compositing on the computer.  What I use Photoshop for are refinements, retouching and layering of lighting or focus exposures.

Juliane:     How long have you been making these sorts of photographs, and at what point did you realize your work, like O’Keeffe’s, was hitting an audience of appreciation that would take on a life of its own?

Jo Whaley, Clematis, 2018, 
Archival Pigment Print, 24x19" Image, 
Edition of 25, $2000
Jo:     I made my first constructed photograph when I was given an old Leica camera at the age of 18.  Ironically, O’Keeffe used a Leica. I had my first one-person show in San Francisco, straight out of graduate school and have had many other wonderful exhibition and grant opportunities ever since.  It always takes me by surprise though.

Juliane:     Your work has been shown internationally, you’ve published two photo books, and now your work is hanging in the O’Keeffe museum. Did you see yourself achieving this as a young artist? 

Jo:     No, I was impassioned, motivated and disciplined as a young artist, but I had low expectations in achieving any external success.  I focused on the assured rewards of making the work.  The times were different and women artists had a tough road.  In the early 1970s, one visiting art professor told our class, “Women never make good artists.” In the undergraduate program at Berkeley, there were many women, but in the entire graduate program, there was only one woman.  Our class, however, began to break down that barrier.  I was working at the Berkeley Art Museum while I was in the graduate program and one of the male curators commented on my career path, by saying, “Women never make good artists, they just get married and have kids.”  There it was again--the discouraging mantra.   So no, I never had illusions of success, other than being appreciative that I could spend time doing what I loved and make a living at it through the theater.

Juliane:     What does it mean to you to have your art and name paired up with Georgia O’Keeffe?

Jo:     It is a terrific honor. O’Keeffe as a woman artist achieved tremendous success in her lifetime and proved the mantra I heard wrong. She is a role model, so it makes the honor even more significant. Carolyn Kastner, the curator at the O’Keeffe Museum has such an amazing eye, and the choices she made in pairing my photographs with O’Keeffe’s paintings are an art performance piece in itself.

Jo Whaley, Overripe Population, 1994, Chromogenic Print, 20x24" Image, Edition of 15, Price Upon Request
Juliane:     You’ve said in past talks, in retrospect, you realize you’ve been trying to communicate the same thing in various ways through your work. What message is on your heart when you create these images? 

Jo:     We’re part of a natural world that is astoundingly beautiful, complex and stimulating, yet we choose to alter and damage this world we inhabit.  All of my work is calling attention to the disconnect we have as a culture with nature. I am reflecting my times as I see it: Global Folly.

Jo Whaley, Papilio ulysses, Archival Pigment Print, 
20x24" Image, Edition of 15, Price Upon Request
Juliane:     What do you envision for yourself in the future?

Jo:     I am feeling the urge to shake things up for myself as an artist.  I want to go back to drawing and painting--to create directly without the use of technology.  It will probably be just a break, but I will emerge refreshed or changed. We will see!

Thank you for asking such thoughtful questions, Juliane.

Juliane:     Thank you Jo, for sharing your beautiful work and thoughts with us. You’re an inspiration as a woman and as an artist.

Echos, The Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit of Jo Whaley’s photographs includes selections from three bodies of work: Botanical Studies, Theater of Insects and Natura Morta. Four of these images are also currently on display at photo-eye Gallery until February 16, 2019. A few selections of Whaley’s work will also be exhibited at the photo-eye Gallery booth for PhotoLA January 31st through February 3rd.

Jo Whaley, Pareronia valeri, Archival Pigment Print, 8x10" Image, Edition at 15, Price Upon Request

Nature has in turn, deteriorated the man-made, through rust, cracks and decay; indicating that man, too, is as fragile and minuscule as a moth.” –Jo Whaley

» View More Work by Jo Whaley    » Purchase Jo Whaley's Photo Books    » Read More about Echos

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All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. 
Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

For more information, and to purchase prints, 
please contact Gallery Staff at 
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