In our newest online exhibition, Corona, we seek to illuminate the best part of our lives and lift us out of darkness. This is a difficult time, and we want to let the light in, lifting our souls into the light.
In science terms, a “corona” is a usually colored circle often seen around and close to a luminous body (such as the sun or moon) caused by diffraction produced by suspended droplets or occasionally particles of dust.
There is no greater way to celebrate our exhibition with the first in a series of interviews with the image makers that inspire us, lift us and show us how to find light in our day.
Today’s featured artist is Leslie Jean-Bart. The Griffin first highlighted his work in 2017, and we look back at it today as we talk to Leslie about this series, light and the idea of Corona.
How does light play in your work?
To have the shadow and the silhouette aligned as wanted, I needed not just the light, but also a certain angle of the light.
I never fail to see, to observe, and to follow the light. The presence and/or the lack of the presence of light at any degree is the key to it all for me. It is one of the fundamental elements that currently informs most of my work.
In your series Reality & Imagination you use the tidal reflection to illuminate life. Did you find the reflection first? Or did the reflections find you?
The most effective and efficient way for me to answer this second question about my use of the tidal reflection to illuminate life and as to whether I found the reflection first or the other way around would perhaps be for me to speak a bit in general about the framework of the segments of “Reality & Imagination” that these images are a part of.
My process there is a way of seeing driven by a frame of mind at the service of an idea. What I mean exactly is, I chose to accept the upside down world to being as important as if not more so than the right-side up world (frame of mind) as a context within which to explore the interaction that takes place between the culture of the host country and the culture of the immigrant living permanently abroad (idea), while I make use of the movement/motion of the tide with the sand to combine that frame of mind with that idea to tease life from the combination (way of seeing). Because of the frame of mind in use, the images created pull the viewer into a world that seems instantaneously both familiar and unfamiliar. The essence of creating that world is not only in the physical aspect of making the image, but even more so, in the frame of mind that permits me to find the suitable environment to interplay the combined elements.
Of course, light, timing, composition, patience, purpose, idea(s), being in the moment, being flexible, are all engaged in creating the image as the tide continuously and rapidly transforms each tableau anew in a fraction of a second. I have to remain focused and be present.
How did you first find the idea to capture contrast in organic shape and texture with the hard edge of light reflection?
It all came about by my need to support the phase of the idea I was exploring at that particular time.
There were a myriad of possibilities in the surroundings of the tide. It was simply a matter of observing, closely evaluating, and selecting an appropriate form(s).
How can a dominant culture be defined vs a culture that’s a guest? After careful evaluation, it was an obvious choice. A silhouette which is more solid, was to represent the host culture. The shadow which is more transparent was to represent the guest culture. By the way, both the silhouette as well as the shadow cannot exist without the presence of light. So there is a common need there. A common need also exists between the host culture and the immigrant culture. The Corona virus has made that definitely overtly apparent.
As I worked on each segment I mentally assigned a very loose characteristic or definition to that given segment. One segment was, say, where the host culture was in charge/doing the viewing, another was the immigrant interacting/doing the watching within the host culture, another was the immigrant culture interacting within its own community. How and what I shot at that particular time was very much influenced by the loose characteristics I assigned to that segment and whatever related thoughts were wafting in my mind on that subject.
But no matter how loose the given characteristics or definitions were, there is one physical element that I always defined for myself in a singular fashion. That element was the thin white/silvery line of light that sliced in one fashion or another through the frame. I always saw it in some form or another as the dividing line, as the border and entry point between the two cultures.
As a way to give a better understanding of what goes on during the actual shoot, let’s follow through with the last line from my answer to question above, “I have to remain focused and be present”.
My being completely present means that all research done and/or any thoughts about particular idea(s) are relegated to the deep recess of the mind. It is as if all information were stored in the electronic cloud, and the pertinent bit of information automatically downloaded itself to fluidly inform the image making process. The downloading happened so fluidly pure and fast that physical recognition at that particular moment is of no practical use and so that physical function is disengaged. (Only at the end of the shooting day while reviewing the images does the physical consciousness fully reengaged in that process, and the image files completely expanded themselves to fully reveal their contents. As I focus on an image of interest during the review, what took place at that moment while shooting is vividly replayed in my head.) It’s a surrender to what is, a surrender to the moment while absolutely not losing oneself.
That process of seeing has also become some sort of a blueprint of life for me. I always try to remain open, and to remain present, without losing a sense of myself.
In this time of Corona, how do you find light in your day?
I try to create, that always brings in the light, especially when it’s all flowing. But a sure boost is to blast music at a high decibel with the headphone on for a short period of time. Unwise, but it works and it’s fun. Am spending time making videos about what I am doing, and how the shelter-in-place is affecting me.
What is next for you creatively? What are you working on?
I just completed a new series titled “Echoes of Past Present”
Two short videos from the ones I have been making gives a visual idea about the series. Please see links below to view. The first link is the very first video done.
About Leslie Jean-Bart
Born in Haiti where he acquired his love for the ocean, Leslie Jean-Bart has been living in New York City since he arrived in the US in 1967. After earning a master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University, Jean-Bart embarked on a photography career that resulted in the creation of images that have garnered awards and recognition.
Earlier days found Jean-Bart on staff at Sotheby’s and Christie’s where he was surrounded daily by the world’s greatest art. Freelance assignments took him all over the world, as he shot for clients in Japan, Brazil, Iceland, Cyprus and Portugal. His commitment to his craft and his defined vision, resulted in a variety of commercial projects, and several published award winning books. A special collage project of Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker for the Verve Music Group was cited for excellence.
Jean-Bart began exhibiting in 2001, when a number of his collages were part of the exhibit “Committed To The Image: Contemporary Black Photographers” at The Brooklyn Museum. From 2001-2003 he took part in a number of group exhibits at Monique Goldstrom Gallery
in SoHo, NYC.
During the last several years Jean-Bart put his career, but not his art on hold. Committed to the care of his mother who has dementia, Jean-Bart became her daily guardian. During this very trying time he soothed his soul by photographing water and reflections. The call to somehow combine the ocean or water and the camera was never far from his mind during the past two decades, and in 2009 the call became a mission and a project was birthed.
The ensuing series titled “Reality and Imagination“ is the culmination of years of working the science and magic that is photography and a never ending love of water, light, shape, form and collage.