ICP Alumni: Jo Ann Chaus
ICP: Jo Ann, you started the Advanced Track Program at the beginning of 2017. What were you doing prior to starting the program and what brought you to the ICP School?
Jo Ann Chaus: The genesis of my participation in the Advanced Track Program came from having taken the Track Program in 2013, which is when I started to make serious work with a purpose. I studied with Jen Davis and Joshua Lutz, making a lot of work that ended up in my monograph, Sweetie & Hansom, which I self-published in 2015 (working with Josh [Lutz] as the editor). After seeing the work of the Advanced Track Program in the gallery at the ICP School when I was a Track Program student, I felt that the Advanced Track Program would expand my photographic vocabulary; it did and then some.
ICP: After completing the Advanced Track Program, did you look at your previous work differently or change how you worked in photography moving forward?
JAC: After three terms of critiques, I developed a better understanding of what mattered to me, and a more focused eye that allowed me to make more complex and multi-layered images. I built on the skills I had been honing since 2013.
ICP: When did you first start photographing yourself? What ideas were going through your mind that made you decide to put yourself into your own photographs?
JAC: I began photographing myself during the Track Program, with an assignment from Jean Marie Casbarian to make performative self-portraits. At that time, my husband and I were getting ready to move from our home of 25 years and had a ton of “stuff” stored in the basement, closets, and drawers, that couldn’t come with us. Before I discarded the things, I wanted to photograph them, and came up with the idea of using my body as a mannequin to wear whatever the objects were (stickers, plastic leaves, etc...). Handling these items again was like time travel, going back to when they had meant something to me or to the person they had belonged to, and connected me more deeply to the past. Being in a dark studio, just the camera and myself, was transformative; my inhibitions dissolved and I addressed the camera directly, conflating the past with the present, making pictures.
ICP: Could you talk about the work in your monograph, Sweetie & Hansom? How did you get started and what is the driving narrative for you in this work?
JAC: I had taken a class, “A Roll a Day,” years ago with the late Susan Klekner. She encouraged me to take pictures of my parents. I did, and got to know them better by studying the pictures I made of them and seeing what was behind their veneers (real or projected by me). In February 2013, my younger brother suddenly passed away. I made many visits to Florida to be with my parents and photograph them—it helped me pass the time, engage with them, and be able to address the loss and grief. With support and guidance from Josh Lutz, I wrote the texts in the book, we came up with a format, and we edited and sequenced the work into Sweetie & Hansom, a story about family, life, and loss.
ICP: How do you prepare for a portrait and how does that preparation manifest during the actual shoot?
JAC: Most of my portraits are impromptu, asking the subject to hold a position while I get my camera, seeing a beautiful shot in beautiful light. For my self-portraits, I am prompted by place and light, and juxtapose items and myself in those spaces. I gather a slew of props and garments and react to the space and light, or see what works together in a disparate way. I start with an idea and see where it ends up. It’s an adventure!
ICP: What are some memorable lessons, conversations, or lectures from your seminar classes in the Advanced Track Program?
JAC: Part-Time Programs Coordinator Ben Gest reiterated, “just keep making work,” so that is my mantra. It keeps me thinking, seeing, and engaged. Ports Bishop introduced us to many books and visiting artists that heightened my awareness to a real practice by real people, and their paths to elevating their work in the world. Jean Marie Casbarian introduced us to important aspects of furthering one’s practice (websites, residencies, etc...) and helped us all see and talk about work. And then we printed with Ben [Gest], honing our skills in using slight nuances to make work really sing.
ICP: What have you been up to since you finished the program? Any updates on your photography?
JAC: I am editing a body of work I made in the Advanced Track Program (and prior) into a book of self-portraits and still lifes, went to my third portfolio review and completed workshops at Maine Media Workshops and Santa Fe Photographic Workshop, continue to enter calls for entry, am thinking about a new project photographing other people, and make new friends, shoot, and print daily.
Learn more about ICP’s Part-Time Programs.