Artist Statement

Jon Van de Grift

Abstractions

I am an enduring conviction that photojournalism is art. For over a thousand years, artists have endeavored to illustrate events on their canvases. From Yokoyama Taikan’s inspiring Mountain after a Shower, to J.M.W. Turner’s brilliant Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, many artistic works have portrayed more than just static landscapes. The camera can afford the same, despite its propensity for making exacting reproductions, often with extraordinary palettes. This myriad of hues is captivating, but it can also be distracting. As such, my work is monochromatic, exploring Renoir’s “queen of all colors.”

My galleries are shaped not by content, but rather the emotions evoked by their imagery. Dreams I’m Flying is the story of the sky, as told from the sky, detached for a moment from the land below so we may revel in our wanderlust and our insatiable longing for a pair of wings. Homeland reflects on the built environment. Here, increasingly disconnected from Nature, yet still vulnerable and dependent, humanity struggles to balance ambition and sustainability. The Far Corners tells of the high places, seemingly lost in time and masterful in their ability to instill a sense of exhilaration in every aspiring adventurer. These remote lands have embodied resilience for millennia, but are now besieged by climate change, fire, mining, and recreation.

Realities

Although a photograph should always represent an artist’s unique vision, it should also be honest. Today, artists have unprecedented control in image development. Wielding this power to create photographic illustrations that masquerade as photographs is misleading. Therefore, I use a “pure process” approach that focuses on the energy between myself and the environment, and not on manipulation. This process emphasizes previsualization before capture and organic tonal adjustments during development. Accordingly, I never use filters or special effects lenses, and my photographs are minimally developed for exposure only. I never add or remove content from a scene. Whenever possible, I make my film and digital negatives available for viewing at exhibits. To me, this is photographic integrity.

Aircraft have a significant impact on our atmosphere through their emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, so I choose not to fly for the purpose of making photographs. Rather, I've simply decided to not waste the window seat. On the ground, I take daily action to minimize my carbon contribution through low emission commuting, maintaining an energy efficient studio and a plant-based diet, paying a voluntary carbon offset tax, and teaching classes in environmental and atmospheric science.