Interview: Constance Jeaggi
Luca Curci talks with Constance Jeaggi during VISIONS, third appointment of the ANIMA MUNDI 2022 art fair, at Palazzo Bembo.
Swiss Photographic Artist based between London, UK and Fort Worth, TX. I have always had a fascination with horses which in part stems from my interest in the essential role they played in the development of modern civilizations. At the heart of the relationship between horses and humans is a large paradox. At once a tool in conquests and war because of their tremendous power and capacity for speed, they remain a herd and prey animal. Through photography both inside and outside of the studio, I explore the duality of these flighty yet mighty animals, as well as their relationships with humans, in particular with women whose livelihoods still depend on these animals. Over the past year, I have been documenting Camilla Naprous of the Devil’s Horsemen with my film cameras. The Devil’s Horsemen is a leading supplier of horses and stunt men and women in the film industry and Camilla is a second-generation horse master and leads the company. My journey with photography started in 2013, after earning my bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University. After this, I completed a short course in Photography at the New York Film Academy. I completed a Masters in Art History and Art World Practice at Christie’s in 2021.
Luca Curci – How did you get to photography? Do you remember why you took your first professional photo?
Constance Jeaggi – It’s my personal draw to horses that gave me the desire to explore the animal further within the context of photography, and more specifically in a studio setting. I was living on a ranch in Texas, working with and competing on horses daily. Horses were and still are central to my life and photography became another means of expression to explore these animals and what they meant to me. I think perhaps going back to the history of the horse, the desire to connect with horses seems almost bred into humans. If you think about it, horses and humans have had a very close relationship for centuries and in many ways, human civilization was built on the horse. A man or woman on a horse could go so much further, and conquer so much more territory on a horse than on foot. And the horse’s speed made it the obvious choice over other “beasts of burden” such as the ox for example. It was the speed machine par excellence before the arrival of the motorized vehicle. In many ways, the horse made man’s world bigger. The connection that we have to horses really informs my photography. I started working on the first big photography project that I named Aspects of Power, Light and Motion in 2016. I studied business at university so besides completing a three-month photography program at the New York Film Academy, I am mostly self-taught. My first professional photograph was taken in the studio that I built for myself in Texas specifically to be able to photograph horses in. At the time I was working on creating my first solo exhibition at the Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. That project had quite a narrow focus on the horse which I’ve expanded since to include humans, focusing more on our relationship with them.
LC – According to you, what makes a good photo? Which details do you focus on?
CJ – Something I strive for when I am working behind the camera, and when I am going through my negatives looking for the images that I will incorporate into whatever project I am working on, is looking for emotion. Essentially, what makes a good photograph in my eyes, is the emotion or mood it conveys. I strive to approach photography in an instinctive way, caring little about the technical aspect of the medium and rather, searching for a feeling. Anyone can make a sharp, well-exposed image nowadays with all of our modern technology, but I find that technical perfection can sterilize an image, making it devoid of emotion. This is also why I choose to shoot mostly on film with mechanical cameras. I want to make room for mistakes, an element of the unknown technically speaking, which helps me loosen up when working. The process when working on the film is also more involved because you are dealing with scarcity (film is expensive and you have a limited amount of frames) and you don’t have that instant gratification of making sure you got the shot. I prefer this way of working, find that it slows me down and makes me focus on what is in front of me rather than what’s happening in my camera.
LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
CJ – It depends on what I am working on. I always photograph with a bigger project in mind. The Devils, which is the work exhibited here was shot during the covid lockdowns in the UK. I was isolated at this farm, the headquarters of the Devil’s Horsemen, a company which supplies horses and stunts men and women to the film industry. I photographed daily life on the farm during the lockdowns and walked around the farm with my Rolleiflex and Contax all day shooting the grooms and stunt people working with the horses. Initially, when I first started photographing them, they were too aware of my camera which I could sense in the resulting images. It took time for them to get used to my presence and that of my cameras after which I was able to tap into something much deeper. I shot over a period of two and a half years which I think was necessary to gain the trust of my subjects and be able to mould their story into what I wanted to convey. Essentially, because of the way I work, time makes for the best subjects…. It’s an extremely instinctive process, I want to feel my way through photography. I’m a cerebral person and shutting off my brain is difficult, so when I photograph, I strive to do just that. It’s a sort of meditative process.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
CJ – I use art as a way to liberate myself. Art is freedom. The Devils is a documentary project telling the story of a group of people from very different walks of life who are brought together by their love for horses and their determination to make a life for themselves in which horses play a central role, and it is also an intimate personal diary. I used photography as a way to ground myself and find purpose during a very difficult time and along the way it became a sort of meditative experience. The result is an inward-looking collection of work where the emotions and moods I was experiencing during the pandemic are assembled and recorded. This project has most certainly shaped my approach to the medium and brought a new way of thinking about photography and approaching my work.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
CJ – I was extremely fortunate to have a fantastic mentor throughout this project who critiqued my work and helped make the final selection of images. As a photobook publisher and editor who works with some of the best photographers in the world, he taught me many valuable lessons in what makes a good and strong series of photographs. He also helped me find my style. He edited my first book which contains a selection of 180 images from the project. Seeing the final result, watching the pages get printed and bound, was a cathartic experience. It’s a tremendous satisfaction, especially when projects are shot over the course of several years, to finally see the final edit of images, get the sequencing right and see the story unfold in front of you.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this exhibition? How did it inspire you? What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
CJ – I found the concept of Anima Mundi to be very inspiring and fitting with my way of thinking of and seeing the world and our role in it as humans. I spend most of my time in rural Texas and the connection and impact humans have on the land is so evident and hard to deny, especially given the current state of our world, the acceleration of climate change, loss of biodiversity and all the negative impacts we have had on the world since the beginning of the industrial age. Everything and all beings are interconnected. I suppose Anima Mundi is therefore primarily about connection and so is my project. The Devils is about a group of people finding meaning in their connection with their natural world, and also about my connection with these majestic animals and how they give me purpose and drive. I also found it inspiring to see the collection of works on display and how this diverse group of artists interpreted the theme.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
CJ – Very much so and I look forward to more in the future.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
CJ – I think it’s a wonderful platform which brings together a wide range of creatives from diverse backgrounds and I am grateful for the exposure the platform has offered me. Being able to exhibit my work in Venice during the biennale is one of my career highlights.
LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
CJ – Beautifully executed. The Palazzo Bembo was an ideal location for maximizing exposure.