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I first met Jennifer Garza-Cuen while we were both in residence at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts last summer. There, I was composing secular requiem How to Go On for Choral Arts Initiative; Jennifer was working on a series of photographs and essays also dealing with themes of loss and grief. Jennifer's landscape photography often favors dark, sprawling skies about to break into a storm, and I found myself drawn to the starkness and originality of her images.
This photo, taken by Jennifer during our residency, will become the cover image of How to Go On, Choral Arts Initiative's first commercial recording. Below is an interview with Jennifer about this image, the first of a series of interviews about the creative process behind How to Go On.
Dale Trumbore: Why were you drawn to photograph this particular moment? And more generally, what compels you to photograph what I now think of as "Jennifer skies": this complex, dark cloud imagery?
Jennifer Garza-Cuen: Most of my current work deals with ideas of place: how place and our images of place are reflected in the people that inhabit it and the narratives that define it. Landscapes play a large role in that process and tend to create the overall mood and palette in a series. I have always sought out what I call true-hued light, and that shows up under overcast skies, so I often shoot before, during, and after storms.
DT: Do you want to share any of the greater significance of the work that you were doing at the residency? I know a lot of what you worked on addressed grief in the form of art.
JGC: At Brush Creek I was working on projects relating to the loss of both of my parents, but specifically my mother. My memories of her are difficult to access, so I have taken to photographing clouds, water, and reflections as a kind of meditation on her and loss in general. For the past few years I have been in a storm of grief, and naturally that shows up in my work.
On that day in July, while you were busy composing, I was photographing the sagelands when all of a sudden the light changed. It was a brief instant of perfect contrast, the black clouds above breaking just enough to illuminate the landscape. To me, these storm images are metaphors for sudden shifts, transitions, and the overall mercurial quality of life.
DT: The title piece on the album, How to Go On, is about confronting one's own mortality, particularly in the face of grief over a loved one. Your image fits the tone of this piece so perfectly: a sense of foreboding, but also the potential for light. We're walking down a path, and we're not sure whether the light is bursting through the clouds or the clouds are about to enshroud the entire landscape in darkness. It doesn't offer an answer, and it shouldn't.
JGC: Everything you said here is exactly what I'm after in these images, so thank you! And yes, there is an implicit question: is it the calm before the storm, or the moment the storm broke? This is what photography does well; by showing you something very specific but also potentially transitional, it makes you reflect on what came before or after... on the climax, if you will, which is always more interesting in our imagination than in an image.
DT: It makes me think of a line by one of the authors—Barbara Crooker—whose poems are included in How to Go On: "We keep going down the one road, there’s no turning back." There had to be something in the air at the residency for your image to work so well with this composition.
JGC: I agree, there was something going on at the residency, and of course we connected around or even because of that struggle.
DT: I can't imagine a better photograph to capture the tone of How to Go On. I'm so glad it's going to be the cover of the album!
Pre-order forthcoming album How to Go On: The Choral Works of Dale Trumbore, to be released in January 2017, and order tickets for the July 16 & 17 concerts of How to Go On here.
Lorraine Joy Welling