By Visual Art Professor Carolyn Wirth
Pine Manor alumna Itaysha Jordan (class of 2001) maintains a photography studio in New York, where she pursues a successful career in fashion photography. Itaysha recently premiered her art photographs at the Hess Gallery, and answered our questions about art, life, and Pine Manor.
Is the Hess Gallery show your first fine art show? How did you arrive at this group of work?
Yes, it is. This is my own, personal work done in my studio with a hand-picked team and some of my favorite models. I view myself as an artist who happens to have fashion photography as her medium. At first, I kind of looked down on fashion photography even though photography was my interest, and fashion was what I was doing. I dressed up my friends and took portraits of them. I would go to thrift stores and find period clothing. I didn’t want to call it fashion photography because they weren’t traditional models, I thought of it more as portraiture. Somewhere between high school and my first college I found I wanted to do fashion photography. I don’t title my work, since I hope the photographs speak for themselves to a large extent.
You use both established models and unknown models in your own studio work. Can you tell us about the artist / model relationship?
I contact agencies or see a model online I would like to work with. I have relationships with several agencies who send models my way. The models are from all over the world—the US and everywhere else. One model I like a lot is Nyanyai Deng, from Somalia (pictured). She has an amazing story about how she came to the US. I think you can see that in her face, and I like to work with her because of the extra dimension her character brings to an image. Usually on a commercial job the model is very experienced. The ad agency will bring a mood board or direction for the model. I do mood boards for my personal work, and these represent my own concepts and ideas that I share with the stylist and makeup artist. They can be really personal. I love the way flowers look with certain models, although I’m not a flower girl generally. I don’t use them all the time, but when I do it’s more of a response to the model, color, makeup and visual mood. Nyanyai is in a photo series I’ve called “Black Rose,” using red roses that were burned with a blowtorch to form a black edge on the petals. I knew I wanted to do this series ahead of time, so I planned on those particular flowers.
When you do a fashion shoot, many people are involved. Could you explain more about the roles of the stylist(s), makeup artists, and models?
I work with a team of makeup, hair and wardrobe stylists. Everyone has a particular strength and I pick a team based on the images I’m envisioning. A lot of my work is not exactly planned out, so I need to be flexible, working with comes out in the moment. This is true of any collaborative effort. Once you get your team together you just trust in them and the skills they can bring to the effort. On a commercial shoot, you have a big group to work with most of the time: the client and their team, managers and PR people, the advertising agency art director, the writer for the text—there’s a lot of people involved. Often I don’t have creative control, since there is already an art director. My work in the Hess Gallery is from my own head, and from my team There’s so many people involved in a commercial shoot it can get confusing, so my personal work is more satisfying in a way.
What was your favorite commercial shoot and why?
I really liked the Iman Cosmetics job, it’s the biggest commercial job I’ve done. I think people can get the best out of me and my work if I have time to create. I had a lot of creative control with Iman Cosmetics because there was no ad agency involved. I still had a lot of guidelines. It was a 2-day shoot: the first day I had a group of 3 models and the second day, a group of 4 models. It’s hard to get everyone in a group to be on the same page, so I ended up composing the shots using different images in Photoshop.
What made you decide to move to New York, and what were some of the challenges in getting established?
I moved to New York in 2005. A friend moved and I moved with her. For a while I traveled back and forth between Boston and NY. I didn’t want anyone to talk me out of going to New York! Here’s something I don’t often confess: I did medical billing to support myself for a while. My mom works in the medical field so I had an understanding of what was involved. I needed some time to get the kind of photography jobs I wanted, and in the meantime I had to pay rent.
When did you decide you were a photographer?
That’s when I learned the foundations of photography and Photoshop. I had a great mentor who taught me the basics. I am classically trained and know darkroom techniques. This gave me a totally different understanding of light and imagery. Shooting digitally is the base of commercial work now, but I truly know what light is about. I have a frame of reference in Photoshop (burning and dodging, for example) that others don’t have if they never took darkroom photography. Possibly I was on the tail end of knowing darkroom. When I moved to NY, I completely converted to digital photography. However, what I have that others may not is a true understanding of light. I have craft and an original skill set.
What classes did you take at Pine Manor and did they inspire and prepare you for a photography career? What was your favorite class and why?
When I first went to college, I went to school in Atlanta and studied in a commercial photography program. However, I felt it repeated a lot of what I had learned in high school. So I moved back home to Boston and worked a night job. I felt like I was wasting my life. I had a friend who went to Pine Manor and it was near my home in Roslindale. When I found out that Pine Manor had a darkroom, I applied! It was a place for me to create. When I got to Pine Manor I was more mature and focused and worked hard at photography. I could experiment, find my own clothing and light, and just do my work. I got to discover my roots with painting, drawing, and sculpture, and be an artist. My BA is in Visual Arts with a concentration in photography, but I also had enough credits to get a graphic design concentration. I went outside Pine Manor and took classes at New England School of Photography, but Pine Manor was my base and my foundation. I found art history with William Stargard really opened my eyes. I was so inspired by different time periods, but didn’t know about how to think about art this way until taking art history classes. I really enjoyed memorizing all the dates and titles of artwork.
What advice do you have for current students about life after college? Would you advocate a career in the Arts?
I was not prepared enough for the real world. I would have liked to do a double major in business, and concentrate in creative entrepreneurship. This would have prepared me to run my own business. It took me 4-5 years of working to gain this experience outside college, working in my medical billing job. How do you market yourself? How do you get jobs? I’m still learning how to operate as a business. Artists operate basically like small business people. I wish I had connected more with alums who had jobs in the arts. If I had the skill set I have now, I would have used my connections differently. Here’s my main advice to students — don’t spend so much money on school and not stay connected. Utilize your network! Carole Rabe helped me stay connected to the school and come back and talk to students, which I enjoy. Pine Manor is a peaceful haven, a home base.