Wednesday, June 26, 2013 / 12:00 AM
Local artist Ellen Jantzen dabbled in graphic design, fashion, organic gardening and cheesemaking before finding her place behind a camera lens. Her signature art—digitally altered photography—has landed her a first place spot at this year’s Prix de la Photographie in Paris.
The worldwide competition, dubbed PX3, included entries from more than 85 countries in seven categories: advertising, photojournalism, book, book proposals, nature, portraiture and fine art, the class in which Jantzen’s piece won. Her winning entry, titled “Transplanting Reality; Transcending Nature,” is a series of photographs showing artificial, ghostlike trees in natural environments. The images, she said, represent her concerns for the environment as well as the sacred symbolism of the tree.
The photo series that has made you the winner of this year’s PX3 is called “Transplanting Reality; Transcending Nature.” Give us some background on this particular collection.
It started off as a series I did last year where I was taking photos of artificial trees and putting them in a real environment. I wasn’t really altering the trees very much, other than the color of them. I was using it to express my concerns about the environment and to talk about how forests and trees are used in folktales. It was a celebration of the tree. The new series is an adaptation of that. The artificial trees are still used and blended with photos of the natural environment. I was trying to make visual a nonvisual concept, the nature of the sacred and spiritual realm.
How would you describe your photography style?
Normally, I wouldn’t consider myself a photographer. I consider myself an artist who uses photography. I am an observer, and a composer. My intent, after I’ve observed and composed, is to get it into the computer so I can turn it into a piece of art. I’m not so much worried about truth as I am about emotion and attachment and trying to visualize the nonvisual.
Your background includes graphic design, fashion, even organic gardening. How did you come around to picking up a camera?
It has kind of all been leading to this. Early on, I was interested in graphic design, and I did a little bit of photography in college, but not much, and then I got out of that and into organic gardening. One thing leads to the other. I was pretty well into the fashion world, and I became very disillusioned with the corporate aspect. It just seemed like it wasn’t a good fit for me. I needed something more creative. The web and Photoshop were just coming out. It was early in that digital realm, in the ‘90s, and I had been trained in computer generated design, so I got an Apple [computer], an early version of Photoshop and a three-megapixel camera. I played around with it for a while, but I didn’t really consider it as an art form until about 10 years ago. The technology had advanced to a point where I felt I could start using it as my art form. It was partly technology that allowed me to pull everything together.
You were born and raised in St. Louis, but spent some time in Los Angeles before coming back. Where do you find inspiration in St. Louis?
Most of my inspiration in this area has to do with seasons. It’s beautiful in California, but everything looks the same all year 'round. I was reintroduced to the seasons when I came back. Our loft is across from Forest Park. We head out to Carlyle Lake because there’s a park there. My parents are 50 miles west of St. Louis. Between those three places, I’ve become reacquainted with the environment and the changing of the seasons. The greens here are blinding. In California, they’re not very vivid. They’re dull and grayed down. I also love the fall colors and the trees in the winter.
What does it mean for you as an artist to have your work displayed in a high-profile gallery in Paris?
It’s a great honor because it’s a worldwide competition. To win first place in (Fine Arts) was a real honor. Under the subcategories, I won first prize in digital manipulation, but the other one is much more important. I get my image printed, framed and matted in an exhibition in Paris, then it travels around Europe for a year and is archived. It’s great exposure. I’ve entered this competition for a few years and won first place in subcategories, but this year is the first year my work will be able to be viewed by people.”
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