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Fractured: Mini Interviews | Monica Denevan, Tom Atwood, JP Terlizzi

photo-eye Gallery Fractured: Mini Interviews Monica Denevan, Tom Atwood, JP Terlizzi We reached out to the 25 artists selected for Fractured and asked them a few questions about their pieces included in the exhibition. Their answers enlightened us on the role photographers play in observing, documenting, and healing the fractured landscapes around and within us all.
Image credit: Jo Ann Chaus, Shutters, 2019
How do artists use art to heal and inspire others to come together during these extraordinary times?

To answer this question, we reached out from our remote workstations to the 25 artists selected for Fractured and asked them a few questions about their pieces included in the exhibition. Their answers enlightened us on the role photographers play in observing, documenting, and healing the fractured landscapes around and within us all. Stay connected to our blog in the coming days and weeks as the artist’s share their thoughts in our new mini-interview series – starting this week with photographers Monica Denevan, Tom Atwood, and JP Terlizzi.

Monica’s serene and calm gelatin-silver print addresses the need for close and harmonious relationships between people and their immediate environment. Tom Atwood’s domestic portrait blends his subject and environment in one unified piece bringing awareness of the LGBTQ community while celebrating difference and commonality in our social fabric. JP Terlizzi’s piece is a carefully constructed family archive that blurs and connects personal identity, family narrative and memory.

In their three distinct styles, these portraits help us understand the world around us and relate to others in ways that transcend borders, gender, generations and other differences that seemingly set us apart.


Monica Denevan | Island, Burma


Monica Denevan, Island, Burma, 2011, gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 inches, edition of 25, $2285 framed

Can you tell us about your artistic process?
While traveling, I make black and white portraits using a medium-format camera, one lens, plenty of film, and natural light. Once home in San Francisco, I print from the negatives in my traditional darkroom.

What inspired this image?

Burma/Myanmar has a long troubled history of isolation from and by the rest of the world. Despite the light, jovial demeanor of most of the people I encounter when I am in the country, there is also a weight that I often sense. Sometimes I try to photograph that feeling. I have made photographs of this young man many times over the years. In 2011, the water level was low, revealing this small island. I brought the young man and the island together to depict the emotions of isolation. 

Do you have a fun or interesting story about your subject matter?
From my journal dated November 30, 2011 8:00 am
“… After photos, sitting at the waterside restaurant with... We're all drinking Coffee Mix and the guys are sharing two plates of fried rice... Met everyone more or less on time. The guys at the hotel, the boy in front of the woman's house, our boat driver with whom we had an appointment. Returned to the little island, just out into the water from where we now sit. Borrowed a table and chair from the teashop and mostly photographed the boy in the chair with his beautiful, long arms outstretched, all reflected in the water. Stunning. The background was hazy and the horizon indistinct, I'm pretty sure. It started off cold... Great to have The Ferryman since he knows us, is friendly with the guys, and is used to me and how I work..."

Monica Denevan, behind the scene, Burma, 2011

Behind the scene picture: 
Unfiltered snapshot of my friend testing out the island to be sure it was strong enough to stand on.

Monica Denevan studied photography at San Francisco State University yet it wasn’t until she started traveling extensively that she began to see differently. Her ongoing series, “Songs of the River: Portraits from Burma,” began in 2000. Since then, she has returned to many of the same small villages in Burma/Myanmar, making intimate photographs of fishermen and their families in the spare and graphic setting of the Irrawaddy River. She travels with a medium format film camera, one lens, and bags of film, working with natural light and making composed images.


Tom Atwood | Mother Flawless Sabrina


Tom Atwood, Mother Flawless Sabrina, 2017, archival pigment print, 18 x 26 inches, not editioned, $900 unframed

Can you tell us about your artistic process?

Most of the time I would arrive at the door having never met subjects or seen their homes, and conduct the shoot in two or three hours. I see photography as a social, interpersonal process — as an interaction between the personalities of the subjects and the photographer. Some people can be nervous about being photographed. Through a constant dialogue with my subjects, I try to ensure that they relax and don’t have too much anxiety. Also, when people are in front of the camera, they often do things that are contrived or unnatural because they are ill at ease — awkward expressions, movements, poses, etc., that are not as common in real life and not as representative of a subject’s true personality. Part of my job is to switch gears and do something different to get the subject to be more comfortable and forget that the camera is there. I try to make the experience fun and exhilarating for subjects, although it can often be exhausting, as well.

In general I use as little equipment as possible so that subjects don’t feel invaded and so the process seems less formal, but I do use portable light sources with a variety of attachments and diffusers, most often umbrellas. I typically don’t crop significantly, and hand hold my camera rather than use a tripod. The ability to move around and be flexible results in a greater variety of pictures from which to choose. Sometimes this also allows for pleasant evolutions in composition that would tend not to arise if sticking to one fixed angle.

What inspired this image?
Today, in terms of the modern civil rights movement, it's helpful to highlight that LGBTQ folks are in many ways like everyone else, and as varied as society as a whole. Yet on another level, there’s a common LGBTQ sensibility that sets us apart that I wanted to recognize and celebrate. This sensibility shares an outlook with the sensibility of creative and cultural leaders — an awareness of difference, of other, of possibility — an avant-garde mindset. Mother Flawless Sabrina embodies this mindset.

Do you have a fun or interesting story about your subject matter? 
Mother Flawless Sabrina was a female impersonator living in New York’s Upper East Side. She has an interesting story, and you can really get a sense of this from the photo and from her home. She represents a breed of 1960s bohemians that is slowly disappearing — a subset of the LGBTQ community that I aimed to capture in my series. One of the first widely known female impersonators in the United States, she was a true pioneer. A mentor to several other transgender people, she ran a national drag pageant enterprise that crisscrossed the nation, with 46 shows a year culminating in an annual national competition in New York. She unfortunately was arrested more than 100 times for cross-dressing, which really highlights how far LGBTQ rights have progressed.

Over 15 years, New York based artist Tom Atwood (born 1971) has photographed more than 350 subjects at home nationwide, including nearly 100 celebrities. With individuals from 30 states, Atwood offers a window into the lives and homes of some of America's most intriguing and eccentric personalities. His second book, Kings & Queens in Their Castles, was recently published by Damiani. The book won multiple awards including First Place in the International Photography Awards as well as a Lucie Award.


JP Terlizzi | Nazzareno/Great Uncle


JP Terlizzi, Nazzareno/Great Uncle, 2017, archival pigment print, glass slide, thread, blood, edition of 5, 7 x7 inches, 14 x 14 inches mat, $1245 framed

Can you tell us about your artistic process?
I usually have a thought-out plan or rough idea before I begin making an image. Sometimes I sketch something out, but usually whenever I do that, the resulting image is so forced it never lives up to what I originally envisioned. For the most part, once I'm in the creative zone of making, I tend to work very intuitively responding to the happy accidents of things that I didn't plan for. I am an extremely organized person (the Virgo in me) and I keep both a visual and written journal that helps me get started or I reference back to whenever I have a creative block. I found that photography has always been a direct mirror of what I'm experiencing or going through in my life. My projects usually surface from an image that I have taken and after some considerable time has passed, I will look at the image again with a fresh set of eyes and that's when the "A-ha" moment hits and I begin to see that image in a whole different light and meaning.

What inspired this image?
Descendants was very much influenced by my response to loss and death and the need for belonging. I come from a very large, loving, extended Italian family. Growing up, I did not have a relationship with my father nor anyone on my father’s side of the family. I was, however, very close with all my relatives and cousins on my mother’s side. My mother unfortunately had her own issues and her hurtful actions and behavior made having a relationship with her difficult. For a little over twenty years, none of my relatives nor myself had a relationship with my mother. During that time, I maintained the relationship with all my maternal relatives and attended all the family functions. I had a special bond with each of my mother’s seven siblings. Sadly, in the course of four years, nine maternal relatives passed on. That was a lot of sadness to go through in a short amount of time, so I knew I wanted to work on a project that celebrated family and served as my own archive for remembrance. I personally do not have any old family photos, so I reached out to a cousin and one last living uncle. They both have family photos that were once owned by my maternal grandparents. My cousin and uncle were able to identify all the relatives in the photos that date back as far as my great grandparents. They shared many stories of my family’s struggles coming from Italy and starting their new lives as immigrants in America. 

I sat with these photos for over a year but didn’t know what to do with them. It wasn’t until I was at a family funeral that someone made a comment and said, “you know it’s in our blood” and that sparked the idea to incorporate blood. Using my own blood specimens, strategically placed on the photograph, was a way of physically connecting my identity to my past while also changing the context of how the viewer interprets the photo. Much of my work deals with identity, relationship and memory. This series is very special to me and I hold it close to my heart. Through this work, I’ve created my own archive of family portraits that connects my identity to my ancestors representing their strength and resiliency. Hopefully one day I can pass these portraits and the stories down to my grandchildren. 

Do you have a fun or interesting story about your subject matter?
When I made the decision to incorporate my own blood specimens, I waited until I had to have routine lab work done. I asked the nurse who was taking my blood if she could give me a couple of extra vials to take home because I was working on a personal photography project that incorporates blood. The nurse just looked at me like I was some kind of weirdo and smiled politely and said I'm afraid I'm not allowed to do that. My reply: But it's my blood. Her reply: Sir, this is not a take-out restaurant. For legal and health reasons, I can not give you vials of your own blood for you to walk around the streets of NYC where you could potentially endanger other people. Then the much delayed lightbulb went off in my head. My reply: Oh, I never thought of that.

Sadly, I learned that one of my great uncles (my grandfather's brother) was actually murdered in a card game dispute back in the early 1920's. There was a lot of conspiracy that my maternal great aunt's husband was involved in this somehow. My great uncle was only in his early twenties and in this country for about a year in half after emigrating from Italy. No one was ever charged or convicted of the crime.

I also learned that my grandfather was in the Italian/Austrian front lines in WW1 in the Alps. One night he was on guard duty and overslept his post while his fellow soldier was standing guard. That soldier ended up being shot and killed while my grandfather slept. Had my grandfather not overslept my whole family would not be here.

So all in all, I learned some pretty cool stuff about my family while doing this project. 

JP Terlizzi (b.1962) is a New York City visual artist whose work explores themes of memory, relationship, and identity. His images are rooted in the personal and heavily influenced around the notion of home, legacy, and family. He is curious how the past relates and intersects with the present and how that impacts and shapes one’s identity

Stay tuned for next week's post, where we'll talk to Jon FeinsteinDaniel McCullough, and Marcus DeSieno

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
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