JAKE SNEATH - ENGRAVEN IMAGES
Tell us a little about yourself!
JS: I grew up in a rural town 10-15 minutes away from Peoria, Illinois. I received my bachelor of science in photography degree from Indiana Wesleyan in 2012. However, I originally came to IWU as a declared-youth ministry major. I maintained the youth ministry track until the end of my sophomore year. I really struggled with the idea of dropping the degree in favor of art. Prior to IWU, I had taken only one photography course which made me feel unqualified to declare an intention of becoming an artist. It was through many long conversations with my closest friends and a semester testing the art waters in Ron Mazellan’s Drawing 1 course that gave me the confidence to officially switch majors at the start of my junior year.
What drew you to pursue a career in the arts?
JS: After completing both my senior thesis and my photography degree, I was really burn-out and frankly confused about the whole process of art-making. The summer after graduation, I got married and moved to Texas to start a job as a resident director at a small Christian university. While in Texas, I tried to remain engaged with photography and the arts and I began to consider how I could merge the type of work I was doing in student services with my desire for creative expression. I decided that teaching photography would bridge that gap and thus applied and was accepted in to the master of fine arts program at the Herron School of Art & Design in Indianapolis, Indiana where I have been able to remain teaching, previously as an adjunct instructor and currently as a visiting lecturer and sabbatical replacement in the fine arts department.
Share with us a little about the early stages of your career--what did you find/have you found challenging?
JS: As mentioned earlier, as an undergraduate student at Indiana Wesleyan, I found the creation of my senior thesis project to be extremely difficult and frustrating. The thesis project proposal felt like the first time I was asked to consider making something that didn’t meet the rigid technical or commercially-motivated parameters of an assignment. Moreover, when I was a student, I caught hold of an expectation that you create artwork from something you are “passionate” about. In my mind, this meant that I must consider an issue or experience that I found compelling in which to have my work be in dialogue with. At the time, I was personally interested in finding my identity through a masculine journey and naturally latched onto this as what my show should be about. However, being so close to the topic, meant that I didn’t know enough. Therefore, the work that was created was unresolved. The visual outcomes were too logical, contrived, romanticized, and presumptuous. The whole process felt like work rather than creative exploration and play. After graduation, I avoided art-making until beginning my masters work. At the beginning of my masters program, I picked up where I left off with my interest in the masculine experience. However, I found it difficult to create a strategy for applying my research to art.
How has your work/approach evolved over time?
JS: As a graduate student, I began to accept that the motivation and inspiration for my artwork may not be connected to an intellectual or academic inquiry. Put simply, I began to explore other aesthetic interests that were separate or seemingly unrelated to a straight-forward working with gender theory. However, this was uncharted territory. I began to explore the Herron Art Library’s photography section where I discovered a number of texts on artists working at the fringes of what might be considered photography. One such book was from the “Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Inside I was mesmerized by the concise gestures made without a camera on various photographic surfaces. I finally felt the freedom to set aside the necessity to plan out or stage an act or happening for the camera. Since then, I have explored several different processes I believe retain the type of magic I first experienced when taking photographs on film.
Tell us about the creation of Engraven Images.
JS: I have found that a big part of my work is about finding alternative uses for and misusing photographic technology. While at Herron, I became very interested in chromogenic color photography; essentially making color photographs in the darkroom. Knowing that chromogenic printing paper would soon become discontinued or at best an expensive alternative process, I began to collect boxes of paper left behind by former students. One of my earliest photographic joys was experiencing an image develop before my eyes in the darkroom. For me, photography is both science and magic. One of the ways I chose to investigate the possibilities for the chromogenic papers I had accumulated was to find out what would happen when the developed paper was engraved with a laser. To my surprise and great visual pleasure, I discovered that the laser was precise enough to reveal the individual color dye layers that make up an analogue color photograph. I applied this discovery to a variety of abstract visual outcomes but I wanted to see if I could advance my technique to the point of being able to accurately replicate an image. After months of trials, I developed a successful process. For the first series of work, I decided to engrave a number of archived images from the Rosetta mission where, between 2014 and 2015, the satellite studied the surface of a comet before a planned impact. The images the agency received resulted in over a thousand images in which I chose a selection to work with. This reproduction technique and the resulting images retranslate the already striking surfaces of space and celestial bodies into surreal and alien landscapes. Image such as “the last thing Rosetta saw” create a sentimentality around our often failed attempts to image objects beyond our visual capacity through the aid of an apparatus, satellite, or camera. More over, I feel that the laser engraver is the perfect tool to physically write the images stitched together from a satellite onto a photograph. While assembling the work that would be in the show, I chose additional images from our planet that, in my opinion, reflect our fascination with worlds beyond our visual capacity. Most of these images contain a fiction or simply an aesthetic that mirrors the type found in the archive of the Rosetta mission. I feel that the group of images in the show create a compelling narrative around our fascination with landscapes beyond our comprehension that reside well within our desire.
Do you feel creatively satisfied with your work right now?
JS: I always wish that there was more time to make the work. Between having a family and teaching, it can be challenging to find time to get in the studio for a productive length of time. I am satisfied with the development of the work. I’m interested in other applications for emerging technologies such as the laser engraver with analogue photographic ephemera. Additionally, I’m still searching for the most successful way of finishing and exhibiting the finished laser engraved work that allows the viewer access to the type of depth that is created when the laser removes the surface of the print.
In what ways do you allow risk and failure into your daily practice?
JS: I have found that risk and failure are a big part of my early experiments. To be engaged in the work, I need there to be a healthy amount of, “I wonder what will happen if/when”. This can often be a challenge for me when working in a more straight-forward, digital manner. There’s a lot less unpredictability to digital cameras. This is why, I tend to enjoy working with analogue processes and/or with materials that are past their expiration date. Like my work laser engraving chromogenic paper, there was a lot of room for failure at the beginning that eventually evolved into a reliably repeatable process.
What advice would you give to an emerging artist?
JS: Similar to the above question, I would encourage students and emerging artist to seek out ways to allow chance and randomness into their work. Said a different way, I think it’s very important at all stages of the artist journey to allow play to be a part of the process. I encourage everyone to explore what may or may not make it’s way into your art. What are you forcing that really doesn’t fit. What really motivates you to make work? The art world today is such where just about any type of inspiration, motivation or strategy for working has a place and there are countless precedents made by artists on which we can stand on. Speaking of finding inspiration, I would advise looking at as many different types of art as possible. I’m a firm believer in the library as a resource for inspiration. Walk the stacks, pull out books that look interesting, discover artists that you feel a kinship with, explore the motivations behind their visual outcomes, do it yourself; don’t worry about copying them; it’s gonna be different because you’re doing it from your own perspective in a particular time and place. Lastly, don’t be ruled by money or security. Those things are important and a necessity but give yourself time early in your career to dream about what you would choose to do if money were not a factor. What might you do if no one would ever see your work. What might you create without limitations. Also, read Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. Do your morning pages. You’ll find out what I mean.
What are you looking at, reading, listening to?
JS: Currently, I’m reading “Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation” by Richard Rohr. In terms of music, I’m all over the place. I Shazam random songs I hear on the radio. A few of my current favorite artists and albums are below:
• “Lines in the Sand” [album} by Antonio Sanchez
• “Mirror Touch” [album] by Wild Ones
• “Destroyer’s Rubies” [album] by Destroyer
• Anything from Yumi Zouma
Jake Sneath is a visual artist who works primarily in alternative and camera-less processes. Rather than work representationally, Sneath uses the the physical print as well as installation works to provide experiences of sublime wonder and beauty. Jake was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. In 2012, Jake received his bachelor of science in photography from Indiana Wesleyan University. In 2017, Jake received his master of fine arts in visual arts with an emphasis in photography and inter-media from the Herron School of Art & Design at the Indiana Universities. Currently, Jake teaches at the Herron School of Art & Design while he continues to explore the sublime through the medium of photography.
His exhibit, Engraven Images, will remain on display in 1920 Gallery until Feb 8.