Carol Jerrems, other artists and inspiration [NSFW]

As a creative, I’m always on the look out for artists that inspire me. Maybe it’s a new idea or a technique or something done particularly effectively. Like in bookclub we recently read Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Grey, which I’d never read before, and which I loved. It is meticulously crafted and has definitely gone straight back onto the shelf to be reread at some point. On a first reading it made me think more about the structure of what I write; how to use plot and character to move a reader around the ideas that I want to explore.

On the weekend I went and saw a photography exhibition at the Casula PowerhouseCarol Jerrems – photographic artist. She’s not a photographer I was aware of previously, but her work is quite striking, especially her portraiture. Jerrems died young – she lived from 1950 to 1980 – and produced an impressive body of work. The most famous is called Vale Street.

Vale Street
Vale Street

The thing that struck me about each of her works I saw was the amount of story that there is in them. The lighting and composition not only produce a beautiful image, they also capture story and emotion. Her work conveys such a strong sense of character from the subjects. Whether the impressions the work evokes are accurate of the people she photographs is probably irrelevant, but it was very powerful. The exhibition, and the following conversation with a couple of friends, was very inspiring.

Judy Morris
Judy Morris
Self portrait with Esben Storm
Self portrait with Esben Storm

About seven or eight years ago I read John Hersey’s Hiroshima, a well-regarded work of creative non-fiction – telling the stories of six survivors of U.S.A’s nuclear attack on Hiroshima. It’s a devastatingly beautiful piece of writing which made me completely rethink how I thought of writing and creativity. My first instinct was that I would never be able to write anything as important as that work, so I should just give up writing altogether. Having just begun a Masters in Creative Writing, I fought that instinct. Instead I see Hiroshima, and works like it, as important reminders to add intent to my creativity, and to work look beyond the aesthetics, or an interesting plot or character, or the pure craft of something, and try and add meaning to it.

My success or otherwise at that? Well, there’s the point at which I let a project go, stop tinkering with it and release it to the world. That has to be my measure I think, for sanity’s sake. And then it’s up to the audience, not me.

The exhibition’s on at Casula Powerhouse until 18 May. If you can’t get there, do a Google image search. Also, this slideshow at smh.com.au.

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