Interview #24: Jayna Ho (2021)⁠

“Botanical Sketching” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2021)

Jayna Ho is a self-taught photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her images are beautifully fluid and etherial, the result of refined, intentional camera movement.

Here’s our interview with her.

CDC/Please tell us about your background in photography. How did you get your started, and what influences have led you to where you are today? What role does photography play in your day-to-day life?

JH/I am a self-taught photographer. I’ve always loved creating photos, but I decided to really educate myself several years ago. As any good book nerd does, I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on photography. Granted, with the proliferation of information on the internet, that’s also been an excellent resource as well. My curiosity was piqued by photos using long exposure and panning techniques. One of the earliest picture I’ve posted on my Instagram account is a simple panning shot of trees, and I remember just thinking what a cool effect it was.

While I don’t usually get the chance to practice daily, I do try to make it a weekly occurrence. The act of making an image feels like a form of active meditation to me. It’s easy to lose myself in the rhythm of movement. I think photography is something I could spend the rest of my life learning and perfecting. From an existential sense, the ability to create allows me to spend time outside of daily grind. It is an opportunity to fulfill my inner child — I create solely for myself. But I also consider art to be a point of convergence between people. It builds a bridge between individuals, wherein we discover our shared commonalities.

CDC/Where do you find photographic inspiration, and what keeps you engaged? What influences shape your work?

JH/I look for patterns, colors and textures in subjects. Most of my current work focuses on plants and flowers, alternating between live plants and cut flowers. My work also tends to dwell in the nebulous area between abstraction and impressionism.

What we see is a complex amalgam created by what our eyes see and how our brains interpret the light signals entering the visual cortex. Basically, everything we see is a visual interpretation of reality. By abstracting ordinary, everyday items, I can emphasize their base qualities while also engaging with the ambiguity of meaning that comes from removing identifiable shapes or details. In some ways, my work is an exploration of dichotomies — between what is and what could be, or contrasting the objective and subjective.

In terms of influences, dance was one of the first things that taught me the connection between the physicality of movement and the nuance of emotion expressed. As I work, I’m always trying to consider how best to combine movement with the subject. Color comes into play in post-processing. Color harmony is incredibly important to me; it is the other half of the equation, if you will. I look to a variety of historical painters for inspiration. Some of my favorite collections of artists are the Old Dutch Masters, the Impressionist Movement, and the Abstract Expressionists. Each period highlights critical techniques in balancing contrast, color and flow. Which is not to say that I don’t have other influences, but these are the ones I tend to consider the most.

Autumn Flower & The Alchemy of Light” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2020, 2021)

JH/From a practical standpoint, the pandemic has definitely affected the parameters of my work. All of it happens within the physical constraints of my apartment. I am lucky enough to have a workspace using natural light, and a separate area for working with artificial lights. I also work with the subjects readily available to me. My preference for creation is to use natural light. Being able to utilize the same space and subjects has given me a chance to learn how light shifts in intensity and color cyclically through the year.

Unfortunately, as a biracial Asian American, the last year has also been impacted by the rising visibility of anti-Asian violence. It’s been a struggle to realize the extent to which I’ve internalized the mythos of the model minority. The degree to which I’ve assimilated has become very apparent to me. Racialized stereotypes are harmful to all of us. I’ve begun to reconsider what identity truly is. Identity is such an amorphous concept, tied as it is to social constructs and comparisons. I think I would prefer to consider identity as a verb, rather than a noun — wherein I am defined by what I do. The phrase “I think, therefore I am” seems apropos.

Photography has become an opportunity for me to reclaim myself, to embrace the act of creation. There is a sense of escapism in my work, of seeking to find beauty in ordinary places, rather than be trapped in some feeling of existential dread. This reimagining of reality lets me lean into my own individual view of the world. It seems to me that all I can do is try to live an authentic life.

CDC/You describe photography as a form of play, but also a way to reclaim yourself; a form of escapism, but also a way to be authentic. I’m interested to hear more how these seemingly contradictory concepts shape your approach to your work, how they manifest in your process.

“Maple Leaves Dancing in the Wind” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2021)

JH/I think to begin answering this question, I would start with the idea that children play creatively and unselfconsciously. As we grow, we leave that behind as we internalize the social constructs that make up adult interactions. There is a conscious push for adults to be constantly productive, that worth is somehow tied to the idea of a strong work ethic or the prestige of a job. I think we often see this manifest in unsustainable work-life balance and burnout. The sense of escapism in my work is fundamentally tied to the self-realization of how unfulfilled I am as an adult.

Art, then, becomes the manifestation of a daydream. It’s an opportunity to create without boundaries or rules. It is a recognition of the desire to pursue the idea of being an artist. The polemical concepts of escapism and authenticity appear on the surface to be contradictory, but I would argue that they are in fact two sides of the same coin. There is a balance found in understanding both the wish to escape and the desire to create something new.

Life is finite. In the unpredictable amount of time I have, it seems imperative to find something more meaningful.

CDC/The results of ICM can be a little unpredictable, spanning the spectrum from glorious success or terrible failure. Your images are wonderfully fluid, but also exhibit structure and intentionality. Tell us more about your process of making images from concept, to selection, to processing.

JH/I would certainly agree with your description of the ICM spectrum. Let me first admit that I have created countless thousands of images in the roughly two years that I’ve been working in this style of photography, and that I’ve also deleted countless thousands. I am incredibly selective of what I keep from any photo session. I think my work ultimately is the balance between the two states of mind I use in the process of creation, between the meditative flow of movement and the very technical processing of the RAW image. I am therefore looking for images which capture both aspects coherently.

“Metamorphosis” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2020)

It’s rare for me to go into a photo session with a full concept in mind. It’s very much a state of flow for me, so the process of capturing is really in the moment, if you will. I always use RAW format, usually with full manual control. I also am not using traditional camera technique. My camera has a live-view LCD screen that I use to help pre-visualize how the movements will translate on the sensor, rather than the viewfinder. This allows me to capitalize on the physics of movement — I’m really using the length of my arms as the fulcrum to smooth out the motion. It lends itself to a very personal technique, as my body is a physical component of the captured image. One of the more important considerations, of course, is light. I look for high contrast light, as it tends to create really sharp details, as well as smoother gradients of color and contrast in an image.

Once I’m ready to transfer to the computer, I’m really evaluating the technical qualities of the image: is the critical focus where I need it to be, how much noise is in the image, what is the balance of color, is there an interesting composition and flow across the image. I have a strong preference for balanced asymmetry, both in terms of terms of the overall composition, but also in the variance between detail and color field. I process each image individually in Lightroom, with the occasional use of Photoshop, using a mixture of global and local adjustments and creative color management.

CDC/What role has the online community had in the development of your work? Have the interactions been beneficial? How do you feel about using an online platform, with all of its limitations, for an expressive medium?

JH/I view the online community as a source of incredible inspiration. I follow a variety of artists across multiple mediums of art. Some of these artists are well established and others are just hobbyists, but it’s wonderful to be able to see how each individual uses their talents to express themselves. It reminds me that I have so many skills yet to master.

“Swirls of Light” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2021)

On the whole, I’d say the interactions are largely positive. One of my favorite things to hear are people’s interpretations of my images — it adds new perspectives to the way I view my own creations. I’ve been using Instagram as a progressive showcase of recent work, because I tend to edit and post within a couple of weeks of initially creating the image. Having a regular posting schedule also helps keep me accountable.

On the other hand, I think it’s incredibly important to take social media with a large grain of salt. Rather than chase the algorithm, I post images that make me happy, and I try to interact with people in an authentic and meaningful way. There are some real limitations to what is possible in Instagram as well. Some of my future goals are to create a portfolio website and to start printing images…

CDC/You work in a studio setting, where you have been perhaps less affected by health orders than, say, a street photographer. Now that we are slowly getting back to some semblance of normality, are there other photographic projects or opportunities that you are looking forward to outside of the studio?

JH/Absolutely. I’d really like to try my hand at astrophotography. I’ve had the privilege to see the night sky, unhindered by modern light pollution, and it’s an unbelievable wonder to behold. Unfortunately, at those times, I had neither the equipment nor the experience to create any worthwhile images. Georgia is home to two certified night sky sanctuaries, so I would like to try and get some local trips planned, especially while we are in the Milky Way season.

I also have a 10-stop ND filter which I haven’t had the opportunity to really test out. I’ve seen some amazing examples of photos created using ND filters in terms of landscape photography, and I think it would be a lot of fun to further extend my experience using slow shutter speeds. I typically range in exposures from 1/30th to 1/10th of second, so this would allow me to use much longer exposures.

While there is still a large degree of uncertainty in our circumstances, I hope to be able to continue expanding my horizons this year.

CDC/I agree that there are limitations inherent to an online photography community. I also find that what I have learned outside of the photography community has had as much influence on my work as anything within. Have you been able to find inspiration, insight and support through other communities unrelated to photography?

“Unraveling” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2020)

JH/On the whole, I’m a pretty introverted, introspective person. I read voraciously — an ideal day typically includes curling up with one of my cats and a good book. I’ve practiced yoga regularly for over ten years. In retrospect, it’s hardly a surprise that I’ve found a photographic practice that acts as another form of active meditation.

I love to cook — my comfort foods span American classics like burgers and mac & cheese, to mapo tofu and ramen soup. It’s a wonderful way to experience different cultures. Also, I sing along to the radio constantly — music is a huge love of mine. When I was in high school, I sang in an a capella group and took up dance, so if I’m not singing, I’m probably choreographing something in my head. Neither of these are anything more than personal hobbies these days, but I appreciate the creative release, even if it’s just inside my own head.

Because I tend to be so insular, it can be a bit of a challenge for me to integrate into larger communities. Something I need to work on outside of Instagram is building a local network of artists or community spaces. The downside to being introverted can be this sense of being untethered to the community at large.

CDC/What do flowers represent for you?

“Violet Light” by Jayna Ho/Atlanta, Georgia (2020)

JH/My most beloved muse is actually a snake plant, which accounts for roughly a quarter of the images I’ve posted to date. While I can’t say I have a green thumb, I have accumulated a fair share of plants which help bring the serenity of nature inside. I love having plants and flowers around the house.

Flowers have a rich historical symbolism to them. Although different cultures ascribe different meanings, there is a general idea that they can be used to represent amorphous ideas. I think flowers demonstrate the transience of beauty and life. They have a visible temporality, of the circle of life writ small. Using them as subjects lends to images which cannot be created again — there’s something inherently beautiful in recognizing the uniqueness of a moment, of being willing to embrace the ambiguity of change or the inevitability of the progression of time.

Portrait of Jayna Ho.

Jayna Ho is a self-taught photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her images are beautifully fluid and etherial, the result of refined, intentional camera movement.

Interview by
Charles David Corbin.

Additional pictures from Jayna Ho curated by Charles David Corbin.

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New digital magazine that seeks to portray the abstract photography scene and the human-beings behind the pictures in all their depth and diversity.