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Jesse Gouveia: Exploring Familiarity through Photography

Production / Direction

Hello, can you please start by introducing yourself and talking about your work?

My name is Jesse Gouveia, I live in New York. Originally I’m from Seattle, Washington. I’m a photographic artist, I also work with sculpture. The physical work I make is made to be photographed so my final works are almost always photographs. I’ve been doing this for five or so years, working in this medium.

Would you consider yourself to be a photographer or do you think photography is just the main medium you use as an artist?

I think that since I started making objects and most are made to be photographed, as well as making furniture for use. I’ve had to reconsider how I see the work living. Lately, most of the time is spent creating the subject matter. I don’t mind either title.

Can you talk more about your sculpture work?

None of the work is out there yet. I’m still working on it so I don’t want to tap into saying too much cuz who knows what will change. But the process has been new to me. I’m still wrapping my head around some things.

There are some life-sized objects made from natural materials. Replicas of things from my life. It’s similar to what I do with human subject-based photographs: a memory I have, a different outcome of a memory I have, an extreme version of something from my past, maybe I wished it had happened that way or something I don’t want to lose the memory of.

Who are the subjects that you are photographing?

Of the work that I’ve been showing, it’s people that I know or that are close to people I know for the most part. Mostly friends or I’ll meet someone who seems interesting and familiar to me. There's also a lot of family in my images, my close family and family of friends of mine. Using models hasn’t been as gratifying for me, people who are photographed for a living have a different sensibility of how they want to look. I think a big part of the work for me is removing some vanity and awareness from the subject matter. Especially far as the camera being there.

Are the images planned out before or do you have a loose idea and work intuitively? What does that process look like for you?

In the past year or so, almost everything I made has started with an idea that I write down and built off of, making revisions on how I want it to be in finality and the parts to that. There are repeated objects and patterns I like to use in the work, color plays a big role for me. It could change course a lot, but I like to start with a pretty clear idea and work from there.

Can you elaborate on the role that color plays in the work?

I started printing photographs in a dark room at home when I first started doing photography. That process took most of my interest.

It took a lot of time but I now feel good about printing and the direction I’ve gone thus far with it. I think I understand myself better now and can see more clearly what I want the work to look like.

Through making a lot of mistakes I’ve learned what I don’t like and I’ve practiced planning better to not disappoint myself at the finish line.

Do you use the same process of developing and printing your photos or has it changed over time?

It’s actually stayed pretty much the same. I’ve used the same camera since I started taking pictures and I use the same processes. I get the film processed elsewhere, at a lab, and then I print everything on my own.

That has been almost more of a journey than taking the pictures--finding a foundation and feeling confident in it. Once that became more comfortable for me, it made making the pictures a lot more enjoyable because I could see it through better. I like having those ritual ways of working so I think it’s benefited me to keep things overall pretty uniform for myself.

Do you work on the images digitally at all or do you do it all through analog processes?

All of the work is straight from the negative to printing. If it’s going online, then I’ll scan the print, but if it’s being shown in a space, I print the work at the scale chosen for where it’s living. Learning to print bigger has been a process too but it’s been fun for me. It’s hard because there’s not much you can do to manipulate the image once you have made the negative if it is never going to be on a computer or a phone. That’s the challenge that I do enjoy.

Do you think that your work is meant to live physically and having it exist in digital spaces is just a product of our time or do you think it can live in both spaces?

I don’t want to be too rigid about it. I have been rigid in the past about how I work and present work. Now I’m more interested in playing with the medium. As far as how it is out there in the world, I don’t think it is very realistic or smart maybe to think that things won’t be shown digitally at any point.

I don’t have any problem with the work being shown in diverse ways, although I do get a lot of satisfaction from the physical work and how it can have some boundaries.

A lot of your images deal with domestic spaces and solitude which are very potent and relatable topics in the wake of the pandemic. Has the past year influenced or changed how you understand your work?

Most of the things I was making already reflected a lot on solitude. A lot of people already spend a lot of time alone. And in my 20’s I’ve thought about those moments and this stage of my life often. It wasn’t planned that some of that work would be coming out at this time, a lot of it was made pre-pandemic. But I think it can only make it more ordinary, the spaces might be more recognizable for people. I like to work indoors and in home spaces, like you said. The pandemic maybe just made it easier to assimilate some of the ideas.

Where do you get inspiration from?

I didn’t go to school so I think I missed out on a lot of basics in terms of who people naturally know to look at for inspiration. I’ve found what I like on my own but it's interesting to hear what people commonly study and I do envy that guidance and knowledge.

I was introduced to photography through magazines and Tumblr. That then led me to look at photo books from the 90s and early 2000s which gave me a lot of inspiration, especially because of the style of portraiture and the quality of printing.

Lately, I have found more interest in stills from film. I’ve been watching more than I used to, or have tried to. Tried to invest more time. There's often a lot more context in a film still because there’s so much work put into creating the perceived reality for multiple viewpoints. I like that more than stills that were made to be stills, there’s more development and moments in between.

Can you talk more about that, do you think your work leans more towards constructing a world or documenting something?

It isn’t always one or the other and they can surely mix, I think they have to. For the most part, I like to compose and construct ideas based on a subject or space that I want to work with. There is usually an anchor point and then I build from there.

I was never interested in making fantasy or dream-type spaces, I like things to be a version of my life, or of someone else's in relation to me. Even if it is obvious that something was made for the picture, I hope there to be a true sentiment and what feels like an honest perspective. Although I definitely liked a lot of naive and romantic coming-of-age films as a kid, especially those that felt like an orchestrated version of reality. Those types of movies really had an impact on me and I’m sure influence some of my work now as well.

Where do you see the work moving in the future?

In the near future, I just want to be making more large-scale work and finish everything I’ve been working on. I would also like to play more with subject matter that is a bit more distant from where I’m at right now and where I’ve been. So much of what I’ve done is in apartments or homes that I’ve spent a lot of time in and I like the engineering behind that, but I want to spend more time in other people’s atmospheres and personal spaces outside of the home.

It’s interesting how you are exploring your memories and experiences but aren’t making self-portraits. What is it like for someone else to be the subject of storytelling from your point of view?

When I have an idea, I try to think about the root of why I am attracted to something and why I want to make it. It’s often something sentimental to me or something I imagined about myself past or present. Meaningful to me but is probably not a very unique experience.

They aren’t self-portraits but I might put someone else in my shoes or the contrary. I also sometimes know that I don’t always see everything in the picture the same as someone else might, which I've grown to appreciate. If it is friends or family in the images, people that I carry a lot of memories with, then it’s still me. It could just be a physical space or a subject that reflects that too I guess. I’m not opposed to self-portraits either though.

The work reflects what’s familiar to me and when things aren’t so exciting visually, that can feel more prized and at the same time deficient which might be more familiar. There’s something I like about work surrounding void moments where there’s not a long exciting story.

Jesse Gouveia: Website | Instagram

Interview by Riley Gunderson