Carla Jay Harris: Visual Anthropologist

Carla Jay Harris works diligently, contemplating her final body in her studio at the UCLA Graduate Studios in Culver City, CA.  At first glance the back wall tricks the eye into seeing a repetitive pattern of wallpaper, but upon closer inspection the design and images are intentionally meaningful.  

Harris works off of her own history, both genetic and racial.  There is a message that she wants the viewer to hear, but it's a message they realize through their own experience.  However, with the events going on in the United States regarding police violence and racial inequality one can't help but tie the two together.  

Either way when the viewer walks into Harris' Thesis show on April 30th they will choose to interpret what they will from the years of work she has put into it all.  The defining revelation will be if the viewer remembers the day after and the day after that about the lessons they might have interpreted through her work?  History is only repeated when everyone forgets about it, and Harris has chosen not only to remember but to manifest something so others do not forget as well.

To see Carla Jay Harris' work in person visit her Thesis show at 240 Charles E. Young Drive at UCLA's campus on April 30th from 5pm-8pm.  And visit her site to see more of her work at www.carlajayharris.com.

Carla Jay Harris, a graduate student at UCLA, stands in front of her wall paper created through reapropriated imagery and self portraiture.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Carla Jay Harris, a graduate student at UCLA, stands in front of her wall paper created through reapropriated imagery and self portraiture.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Describe the reasoning behind the wallpaper and the need for mirrors.

I started this project as a documentary – a photographic documentation of my connection to my family history. Over the course of the project, the photographs started to feel limited. I began experimenting with installation and sculptural work to extend them. I feel that the wallpaper installation more effectively communicates my lived experience. I also feel that documentary photography presents the photographer as objective – that position does not feel appropriate to so personal a work.

Harris lays out imagery from her project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete' where she documented the changing economic realities of the American worker through examining her relationship to her familial heritage.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris lays out imagery from her project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete' where she documented the changing economic realities of the American worker through examining her relationship to her familial heritage.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Why do you juxtapose the appropriated imagery and familial imagery on the wallpaper?  Do you feel that appropriated imagery speaks louder than if you had illustrated the same message in the studio?

I feel that isolating the found images or the familial images and presenting them separately would be a false or oversimplified representation of my reality. Mixing the two together, expresses the gestalt nature of contemporary African American existence.

An image from Harris' project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete'.  Photo courtesy of the artist

An image from Harris' project 'Dirt, Dust, Sand Concrete'.  Photo courtesy of the artist

You mentioned you grew up in a low crime area of Northern Virginia but with recent events in Ferguson and New York how has the racial tension developing in the news affected this project and you personally?

 I think that Americans (myself included) have a tendency to gloss over the uglier aspects of our culture and history. Cultural activism has largely given way to apathy and commodity culture. People should not have to die in order to generate passionate conversations about race.  This idea is in part what inspired me to complete this wallpaper. Wallpaper and the decorative arts have historically been relegated to the background. Incidents like what occurred in Ferguson, racism and stereotype are always there whether we choose to focus on or see them.

Family plays a big part of Harris' work so it is only natural for her to have a portrait of her grandfather hanging on her studio wall.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Family plays a big part of Harris' work so it is only natural for her to have a portrait of her grandfather hanging on her studio wall.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Upon closer examination of the wallpaper design there are Cotton Blossoms and Tobacco leaves. Did you design this and how does it connect to you and your work?  And just as they are intertwined on the design is this a metaphor for both Identity and Heritage interconnected throughout your work?

I worked with an illustrator to execute the wallpaper; however, I designed and conceptualized on my own. Cotton/tobacco are plants that my family worked under the plantation system and later grew on their own farms.  They speak to my family history as well as African-American and American history. I do see them as an extension of the themes of heritage and identity woven throughout the project.

Harris works through a mock up of her Thesis project in her studio at the UCLA graduate studios in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works through a mock up of her Thesis project in her studio at the UCLA graduate studios in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

What was the evolutionary process of the wallpaper?  How did it turn into the final piece that is in your thesis show?

I like the idea of using wallpaper because it typically functions as a background. The wallpaper began as an experiment. However, as I have worked through it, the piece has come to embody the essence of all the work I've done while here at UCLA. While here, I have really concentrated on exploring my cultural and familial background. The wallpaper includes multiple elements from both.

Silhouettes as potential mirror objects hang on the wall in Harris' studio.  The placement of inspiration for potential ideas is key to any artist's studio especially in graduate school.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Silhouettes as potential mirror objects hang on the wall in Harris' studio.  The placement of inspiration for potential ideas is key to any artist's studio especially in graduate school.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Do you feel the inclusion of mirrors is a way of transporting the viewer as well as you to the times you recall about Virginia?  Almost like Alice in Wonderland? Do the mirrors also call for a self-reflective process amongst the viewer?  Do you have any specific intentions with the mirrors and your audience?

With the mirrors I want to extend the project beyond my own personal experiences to transport the viewer into my experience. When viewers approach the work, they will see their reflection on the wall - literally seeing themselves in the wallpaper.  In this way, I call for a self-reflective process with the viewer.  

Harris works on a mock up of her images and lays them out shifting them around like a deck of cards to see how best they speak visually.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works on a mock up of her images and lays them out shifting them around like a deck of cards to see how best they speak visually.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Your images tell a narrative in their placement.  What narrative do you find them saying either with each other or as a whole?

I have not constructed a liner narrative with the work. However, I do see the included images as in conversation with one another. I imagine them questioning the construct of identity, which has agency over identity and criticizing stereotype.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Like most projects the process can be therapeutic for the artist.  Do you feel that working on this body of work has allowed you to examine frustrations that have lived just below the skin, so to speak, that you have not address personally before?

I would not go so far as to call the project therapeutic; however, I do feel that working on this has allowed me to conceptualize my ideas about critical identity politics and their place in contemporary art.

Harris works with a miniature mock up of her Thesis show in her studio in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

Harris works with a miniature mock up of her Thesis show in her studio in Culver City, CA.  Photo © Aimee Santos

You describe your work as Identity and Heritage.  Can you elaborate where the societal aspects and the genealogical aspects are present?

I’d say that heritage and identity are key themes of the project. The genealogical aspects are woven through the design of the wallpaper. The societal is largely represented in the found/re-appropriated images selected.

Felix Quintana - Photographer of Light

Years ago I was introduced to the technique of light painting and thought it was very Caravaggio in style.  Painting a scene with light seemed so quiet and technical that anything else seemed loud.  Felix Quintana, however, has taken to painting with light in his own unique way, one in which has a style I've never seen before and can have so many definitions or rather explanations.  

Like any recent graduate one finds ways of obtaining the desired visual effect without spending a fortune on gear.  Following him one night on the street I noticed that there were elements he was in search of and spots he was mentally cataloging for his next visit.  Filing away an underpass, an overhang, a new sculpture that had just the right color were all being tucked away in his mental library. 

Armed with his tripod, a small light and his digital camera, Quintana travels the streets of Los Angeles in search of specific items, a scavenger hunt, if you will.  Arches, colors, angles and heights all play into a mental picture that has missing pieces only these structures can fill in.  The structure and the light painted only a specific way by Quintana.  

There is a determination in his demeanor that says "I will make it, just be patient with me."  I can see that he is crafting his skills and accumulating the knowledge that he knows he needs to take the next step in his artistic evolution.  A step that will take time, persistence and passion, all of the things Quintana already possesses.

To see more of his work check out his website. www.felixquintana.com and follow him on instagram @l_y_f_f_q

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

 Why Light?  

Light is the basic principle of my medium (photography), and the most advanced way to make my mark. It extends into all areas of my life, from the daily ritual of opening my blinds, to the unique way it reacts on my sensor.  There is a lineage of image-makers who have felt light as I do, which allows me to believe it is essential to of all great works of art, and vital to our natural surroundings.

'Three Figures in Motion,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.  

'Three Figures in Motion,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.  

You have a tendency to work with models but not in the traditional sense of the word.  How does the inclusion of a human element change the way you work and how does it alter the process of creation?

I choose to have a positive relationship when I work with a model, as opposed to separating the connection between photographer and subject, on site or in the studio. My work with the human figure seeks to break down prejudice way may arrive to with straight photography, and simplify what meets the eye. In a sense, my work would be impossible to make without the human element, as I am deeply moved by all cultures, and individuals.

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Some of your imagery has Paleolithic qualities.  Is this intentional?  How did this start to manifest in your work?

The basic interest of mark making is historically rooted in graffiti, and I do wish to expand on this tradition as an image-maker. I tap into areas of primitive culture because it is a part of being a photographer for me. I sustain the right to traverse through time and space with my work, and connect them to the 21st century.

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

You recently acquired a studio to work on your practice.  Can you explain how this has affected your process and the need to have a separate space from your home to create?

In my undergrad, I was fortunate to share a space with painters, soon nurturing a responsibility toward my art practice. Having recently acquired a studio in Boyle Heights — amongst glassblowers, photographers, and painters — has been a fantastic milestone for my work. It is a privilege to dedicate a space to my process, and has allowed me to work amongst true professionals in their respective fields. It has humbled me to maintain a commitment to my work, and dedicate time at home to my family. 

'Transcendental,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

'Transcendental,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

Is there something about the darkness that speaks to you?  

Not necessarily. Rather, I am much more interested in what may come from it. To me, a space with an absence of light is one with great potential. Currently, I work at night because it allows me to extend the control of a traditional studio setting onto the world, and it’s gross materiality. Like a painter begins their work from a white surface, I begin with void — and sculpt my world with my unique light.

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

You do a fair amount of imagery involving the streets.  What about the streets attracts you?

I was born and raised in South East Los Angeles, and the streets provided me with room to grow, and endless paths to travel. My attraction toward metropolitan areas, graffiti, and the L.A. lifestyle was not something I could have ever asked for, but has provided me a license to explore. I want to bring light to what we sometimes overlook on Alameda, Imperial, or Cesar Chavez Blvd -- from riots on the street, or an organic, element thriving in the city.

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Having just graduated from Humboldt State University, with a BA in Studio Arts, and now you are back in Los Angeles where you grew up, did you find the nature like environment of Humboldt added something new to your vision?

Studying Photography in a renowned environment like Humboldt County allowed me to engage with artists, writers, and professors with similar visions, encouraging me to commit to my unique path as a photographer and young artist. Leaving Los Angeles made me respect its complexities, while studying at HSU gave me time to understand it, and the right to explore. If my voice once had a limit in Los Angeles then Humboldt allowed me to sing the song of experience.

'Downtown Near Midnight,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

'Downtown Near Midnight,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

After taking a look at some of your images the word composition is not what comes to mind but you do invest a great deal of time layering and piecing together your images.  What is the average amount of time you spend on a piece?

My process of layering photographs is rooted in being the director, and actor of my technique. Like a painter who makes one mark after another on a canvas, I choose to build upon my marks.  Constructing my images has been as intuitive, and free as a three-hour session. For my scenic compositions, they typically entail 24+ hours split between researching, writing, observing and photographing — but who is counting? 

Is the process of these pieces inspired through an idea or environment that dictates the finished image?

My primary goal is to feel great joy in what I do, and let a certain idea, phrase, or feeling create an image through the lens, or become a key asset to a composition I may be working on. The music the I am listening to may very well inspire me to challenge myself, and the company I keep helps me stay focused, and not stray off into making work that is simply a bore, or perhaps barely art.

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Felix Quintana in his process of photographing light. Photo © Aimee Santos

Do you plan to continue with using light as a tool or do you want to experiment with other forms of elements in your work?

Yes, I do plan on exploring the potentials of light painting within my work. Structurally, I am very interested in releasing my photographs from the archival printing tradition, and making them more accessible to my city, family, and friends. The relationship between still photography and moving images is naturally an element I can explore, but currently choose to stay focused on art and photography.

'Por Una Liña Somos Unidos,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

'Por Una Liña Somos Unidos,' 2014 by Felix Quintana.

What is next in your work? Exhibitions?  Events?  Grad School?

My work is simply beginning to emerge, and I will do my best to let it blossom naturally. This means spending most of my days on the East side, and doing what I love, and sustain the right to do. I have recently been invited to show at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art, and hope to show more in the future. My most intimate and profound goal is to attend graduate school, and I will be applying for MFA programs in the coming of weeks. I hope to one day teach through photography. Whether in the classroom, or on high-rise billboards, I will work hard to make this true.