About the Artist: Yaro Shon Neils is an interdisciplinary artist who was born in her grandmother's cabin in Munds Park, Arizona, and raised in an agricultural community located in the heart of urban South Phoenix. She holds degrees in Photography and French from Arizona State University and an MFA from the University of Montana School of Art. She currently resides in Spokane, Washington and works as Photography Lecturer at Eastern Washington University.
Statement: These images are all untitled, from the series Renaissance. While suffering my first real heartbreak after the end of a long-term relationship, and re-examining many of my beliefs as a result, I returned to the cabin of my birth and took self-portraits in the bed in which I was born. My first work in self-portraits, this process was terrifying and -- ultimately -- healing. These images were shot with a 35mm camera and the negatives were then hand-enlarged using ortholith film. They were then contact printed in multiple gum-bichromate on hand-sized paper.
Below, Yaro answered a few more questions about her series and photography practice!
Why did you choose photography over other artistic mediums?
I work with a variety of media, but photography in particular was necessary for this series. This was my first work in self-portraiture and not being able to see the images as I was taking them emboldened me. There is an undeniable magic to seeing photographs when they first appear on a contact sheet -- I am often surprised when I work with film in a way that digital is unable to surprise. No matter how many years I spend with a camera, something will inevitably creep into my image that I hadn't expected or the light will illuminate something in an unpredictable way. There is still a certain aspect of truth one is able to read into the final image, as well. I challenge this notion and encourage my students to challenge it, as well; each photograph has much more to do with its maker than what actually happened, but that is actually me in these images, that is the actual bed I was born in, etc. despite contrivances.
How did this series start for you creatively?
It started with heartbreak. My first love and I, who at that point had spent a third of our lives together, had separated. I was struggling creatively but had shot at the cabin where I was born in the past. My professor at the time, who would turn out to be a life-long mentor, suggested that I return to the cabin, but turn the camera toward myself for the first time. I was terrified of being alone and terrified of making self portraits, but the process turned out to be very cathartic.
What reflections have you come to after finishing this series? If you are still working on the series, what revelations have come up while creating the series?
Because I shot with a 35mm camera, and then hand-enlarged the negatives for contact printing in multiple gum bichromate, I spent a lot of time with each image individually, often more than 10 or 15 hours to make a single 4 or 5-layer gum print. Without realizing it, I began to refer to the figure in the images as "she" instead of "me." I saw myself for the first time as a universal body and moved past my pain to view a larger narrative shaping. I saw dichotomies emerge which were part of my personal construction, but more so part of a cultural construct surrounding femininity. There's a certain innocence to these images that I still see within them, but making these photographs was extraordinarily empowering. It shaped my relationship to art in general and allowed me to take control in shaping the narrative, to inquire in a more deliberate way through my creative process.
Do you ever get in creative slumps? If you do, how do you get out of them? If not, what methods have you created not to get into a slump?
Of course, I think that everyone experiences creative slumps. I journal to help get things flowing. Setting a deadline that you have to stick to is the all time best way to get out of a slump.
Are there any books, movies, magazines or podcasts that you would recommend people to check out?
Art and Fear is a must-read for every maker. Reading the biography or memoir of an artist you admire is a great way to get out of a slump. Fiction and creative non-fiction are two sources of inspiration to me. My advice would be to not look solely at the work of photographers. Other media can inform your photographic process and inspire you in unexpected ways.
Lastly, what artists are currently inspiring you?
Wangechi Mutu's collages have been a recent source of inspiration. My students inspire me all the time by constantly challenging themselves and facing their fears.
You can follow more of Yaro's work on her website!