by Dilpreet BhullarFeb 24, 2022
A large chunk of rock perched on top of a mountain, the vertical lines of light sifting through the wide green field, the sky tinted pink against a rock in a desolate piece of land. These are a few snippets from the field of photographs created by the USA-based image-maker Ellen Jantzen. Forging a relationship between photography, prints and collage art, Jantzen does refrain from using the digital advancement of photography as a way to represent the many realities of nature. The natural and artificial elements come together to manipulate the single order of nature in an effort to let the viewers re-engage with their surroundings in a new light.
Jantzen has always been intrigued with the formation and evolution of mountains. The beauty of tall mountains is rooted in their rich history of deposits, which has been a subject of fascination for the image-maker. Interestingly, made of the same materials and minerals, still rocks, stones, and mountains differ when it comes to sizes. The scale is a key element in the works of Jantzen. The series Unexpected Geology is an epitome of both her fascination with mountains and rocks and her interest to play with visual proportion. In an interview with STIR, Jantzen states, “Ratio, proportion, relative size, all play a part in the magnitude of the structures. There is aesthetic magic to scale. I approach this work as both a window through which I observe my new surroundings (recording what I see) and a mirror where I bring my sensibilities to bear, reflecting my inner state of being. I use layering and blending modes to merge the observed environment with my internal intuition. Here, I digitally place stones in my photographs of mountainous landscapes while obscuring the scale references.”
Before formally beginning to make images, Jantzen studied graphic arts and worked as a senior project designer at Mattel Toy Company. With technological advancement in every sphere of life, including improvements in digital cameras, Jantzen saw a perfect way to give wings to her creative desire. This allowed her to produce what she calls “photomontages”. To give a peek into the art of making the images, the graphic artist takes us through the many steps she takes before presenting her work to viewers. “Normally, I have a concept in mind and shoot to fulfill my needs. I take quite a few shots to have more information to draw upon when creating and to leave room for surprising captures. Once back at my computer, I begin my work by sorting through my images and selecting the ones that seem most promising", states Jantzen.
More often than not, the task of the artists who are sitting on a desk and working digitally is reduced to the buttons. Jantzen asserts, “This is far from the truth. I would venture to say that I spend as much (and maybe more) time working on my images as one who develops them in a darkroom. As I work, I use various tools in Photoshop to draw, cut out, and select. I use a Wacom stylus (pen), exclusively; working much like a painter. I have dozens of layers that are meticulously created and blended to form my final image. I always save two files, one where all of the layers are flattened into one photograph for printing and a second file where the layers are kept separate. This gives me the opportunity to revisit an image, thus overturning the notion of a decisive moment.”
As someone who was born in Missouri, United States, having spent a considerable time in Illinois, and now living in New Mexico, Jantzen is familiar with the experience of relocation. She mentions, “The place of one's birth greatly influences who they are, but through moving, new landscapes await to reshape their very being.” During the times of travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Jantzen had time at her disposal to blend the photographs from her years in the Midwest (Missouri and Illinois) with the current photos she had been taking while living in New Mexico, giving birth to the series Mid + West; Dreaming. Jantzen says, “The landscape looks as if it were moving, as though one was quickly driving past, but the clouds seem heavy and still. There is so much of life racing past us these days while our heads are in the clouds. Are we moving or remaining still as abstract land meets the real sky? We are reshaped by our circumstances. We become, in essence, a blending of all former homelands with the present.”
The play with ratio and proportion is not so uncommon with image-makers. What makes Jantzen’s photomontages hold a unique spot then is the invitation to let the viewers be part of a poetic communion with the multidimensional landscape.