(More than) 10 Questions: CCP Lecturer Jessica Eckermann

One of the greatest pleasures I’ve experienced since opening the CCP in 1997, is watching and experiencing the development of some excellent students who grow on to become contemporary artists. They practice photography with a singular and original passion which extends and celebrates the uniqueness of the medium. Some of these people are of course being featured in the fortnightly blog posts as we celebrate 20 years of CCP life on this crazy planet – you have read about them and will be reading about them for the rest of our celebratory year.

Taking this to an even higher level, there are a select few in my opinion whom I’ve observed demonstrating a fantastic desire to share this passion with a generosity of spirit, meted out with excellent communication skills to share this confidence with their peers. It’s a singular love and sharing of the medium that my mentor John Weiss illustrated (and stressed) to me nearly 30 years ago while I was his Graduate Student at the University of Delaware.

Naturally I am extremely proud to be surrounded by these people as an educator. I have grown to appreciate these qualities in teachers, lecturers, facilitators and anyone who becomes responsible for passing the torch so to speak to yet another generation of (in this case) artists so they too may continue their growth with any medium they choose to express themselves with.

These former students I choose to approach and ask if they would like to become lecturers at the CCP after their graduation, and if the right circumstances prevail, they agree to come on board and indulge in the beauty of “messing with people’s minds in the sacrosanct act of delivering the message of creativity to the great unwashed!” as I like to say.

They choose to undertake this gift of giving so that their charges may too develop the confidence to express themselves in the medium of photography and develop their artistic voice just as the now-lecturers have. This is the tenet which all lecturers and support crew here at the CCP abide in an unspoken way. It comes naturally to them, because a generosity of spirit is innate; you realise that giving it away also has its own rewards and manifests itself in many different ways – just not necessarily as you may imagine. Teaching is a discovery and reward in itself.

This observation brings me to this fortnight’s chapter – a former student of the CCP who is now a loved member of the CCP crew – Jessica Eckermann.

Jess came to us in Term 1 of 2003 while we were still located on Union Street Stepney and studied fairly full time until 2003 when she’d earned her Certificate IV which I believe also coincided with her graduation from teacher’s college with a degree in Secondary School “Cat Herding”. This placed a bit of a crimp in her future studies at the CCP however, with Jessica’s usual determination, she continued her play at the CCP with single subjects in 2004 & 2005 while finding her teaching legs then undertaking more subjects here until graduating with her full Diploma in 2006.

I love Jessica’s “contemporary retro” bent with her own photography and I am extremely pleased Jess has been a member of the CCP teaching crew since 2009. It is because of her continued contribution and enthusiasm towards this program that the CCP continues to thrive along with our students and crew. Naturally today’s chapter is not to be missed as Jessica illuminates us with her observations of life post-graduation and her choice of more than 10 questions to respond to… Jessica Eckermann, over to you my friend, you are a delight to work with and to tease!

MORE THAN 10 QUESTIONS Jessica Eckermann

What first interested you, or made you fall in love with, photography?

I first got interested in photography in high school as we could take the photography class instead of a compulsory science class in year 11.  

Why did you choose to study at the CCP?

After high school I missed working in the darkroom and wanted to continue black and white photography in some way. I had bought darkroom gear with a friend but without the space to set it up permanently, I didn’t get much of a chance to use it. I had deferred University twice and found myself stuck working at a Subway fast food chain where I would often spend my lunch breaks poring through the employment section in search of a better career. It was in the Education & Training advertisements at the end where I saw the ad to study photography at the CCP. I picked up the phone right then and called. By the end of the conversation I was enrolled in three classes starting that week – I came in and paid with cash as I was so desperate to get out of Subway!

Are you making personal work?

I’m always attempting some sort of personal work in my spare time. However, I often have more ideas than I have time to execute them! My personal work often has strong connections to vintage eras and self-portraits but I also like to work outside of these areas when the urge arises, particularly with alternative cameras and processes such as the Holga, the Spinner 360 and cyanotypes.

What inspires your work at the moment?

I’m usually inspired by ideas around narratives and aesthetics with a sense of nostalgia – I feel I could explore past lives through photography forever! At the moment I’m experimenting with some compositing and also responding to the natural environment after having moved back up into the Adelaide Hills recently.

What have you done since you studied at the CCP, and what are you doing now?

Since studying at the CCP I have predominantly become an educator. I have worked in both high schools and the VET sector, primarily teaching photography. My photography business is mainly portrait based with some work in weddings also. Currently I am teaching at the CCP and working in an adult re-entry high school.

How has photography changed since you commenced your studies?

I didn’t have a strong focus for where I wanted to go with photography or much of a personal style when I first began studying. I have developed a stronger sense of aesthetic and a deeper technical focus and understanding. The biggest change of all of course is that digital is now my primary medium rather than film.

How has photography changed your life?

As a person with an intrinsic artistic need constantly demanding to be fuelled, I have always required multiple outlets to allow me to create. I feel that photography happened to be the one I engaged with the most and incidentally has had the biggest impact on my life.

How have you changed since you were a student?

I drink alcohol now with Gavin and Aaron and I never did that when I was studying at the CCP! …(Ha ha, no please don’t include that :-) )

Which photographers - past or present - have been major influences on your work?

Harry Callahan was the first photographer I remember being truly amazed by. He didn't have just one technique or one style and I loved the creativity and versatility of his approach with his portraits of his wife Eleanor to his street photography and abstracted landscapes.

Cindy Sherman introduced me to the world of self-portraiture. After learning of her work in Photographic Concepts 1 I made my own attempts at creating narratives where I got to play all the characters. I was hooked and have kept coming back to this concept for over a decade and feel I could keep exploring this forever. I still feel my self-portrait work is my best and most satisfying work to date.

Richard Avedon is one of my favourite portrait photographers, especially his series In The American West - a stark contrast to his celebrity portrait work, which is also great, but showing the rough and gritty reality of his subjects.

Alex Prager is a contemporary photographer who explores narratives through large scale tableaus with a very cinematic style. I feel a real resonance with her work and I especially enjoy the tension and drama she builds into her series.

Lastly, I feel W Eugene Smith is the ultimate story teller through his photo essay social documentary work. His perfectionism and dedication to "the story" is something I feel inspired by.

Who are the people who have shaped your work and career?

From being a mentor and then later my employer, it would be an understatement to say that Gavin Blake has had a prevalent role in shaping my career as both a photographer and an educator.

As far as the business side of photography goes, I have had to learn many things on my own but being able to talk to others with experience in the industry was also beneficial. More recently, I have found a vast amount of knowledge has come from the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), which keeps me up to date with industry standards and code of practice to work by.

Any surprises - good or bad - as you have progressed in your career?

I was surprised at how difficult it was to continue my artistic photographic work after I finished university and started working beyond full time hours with my teaching work during the day and photography work on nights, weekends and during school holidays. The energy and emotion that a career can take from you is overwhelming and it can be hard to make the time to indulge in creative work. The creative process didn’t seem to come so easily when I was feeling burnt out at the end of every day. Forcing the mindset to create work can be difficult but it’s harder and certainly more disappointing if you don’t.

Do you have any advice for student photographers?

The work you do while studying is the most fun and freedom you ever get to have – despite the perceived constraints of the assessment tasks you are working to. Professional work is all about meeting someone else’s brief and while the outcome can be satisfying, the work isn’t as fun as your own creative explorations. Enjoy the luxury of following your own agenda and making mistakes without the pressure of delivering a product!