© Celia D. Luna

Interview with Jessica Yatrofsky

Jessica Yatrofsky is a New York-based photographer, filmmaker and author, known for work exploring body politics, beauty, and gender. She received her MFA from Parsons the New School for Design and published her first photography monograph, I Heart Boy, with powerHouse Books in 2010 and her sec-ond photography monograph, I Heart Girl, in 2015. In 2017, she published her debut collection of poetry titled Pink Privacy. Jessica’s photographic work is part of the permanent collection with the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and the Musem of Sex in New York City. Her photography work has been exhibited overseas and her film work has been both televised and screened at film festivals internationally. Jessica’s writing has also been featured in publications such as Forbes and New York Magazine.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a multidisciplinary artist and activist primarily known for film and photographic work exploring body politics, beauty, and gender. I studied applied arts as an undergraduate: painting and sculpture and I received my MFA from Parsons where I worked on a photographic series documenting subjects that eventually became two photography monographs, I Heart Boy and I Heart Girl. I was always drawn to the body and it continues to play a role in much of my work.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in New Jersey, my family is from New York and New Jersey but when I was very young my parents moved with my sister and me to Los Angeles and shortly after that our family relocated to Las Vegas and that's where I consider I grew up. I feel like a LA-Vegas-NY hybrid. My parents are very east coast, even after spending the second half of their lives on the west coast. I’ve always felt like a New Yorker which is why when I was old enough I moved back east. A NY girl with LA sensibilities.. 

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is mostly collaborative, with the exception of my poetry collection Pink Privacy which I wrote in solitude over a 72-hour period. But for all of my other major projects, I tend to work with a team, either a film crew or model or neon manufacturer. Even when I have a flash of inspiration, I don’t force it into any particular medium, I just let the idea dictate how I work. For the last decade or more, I’ve sought to build a community around me that functions like a creative ecosystem. For example, one of my subjects from I Heart Boy became the lead actor of my first film SUN IN MY MOUTH. Another of my subjects, Shaun Ross, was my friend and muse for an experimental art film that was created in collaboration with a clothing line designed by Belgium pop singer Bent Van Looy. Similarly, after my second monograph I Heart Girl, I directed I Heart Girl, The Screen Tests which not only led to a deeper connection to my femininity but also directly led to my poetry book Pink Privacy. A selection of poems from that book became the basis of a musical and visual collaboration called Cunt Keeper that I went on to perform live and release on Spotify and iTunes. And building off all of that, I worked with my friend and fellow artist Dana Caputo on an exhibition of neon works called Chakra City which we premiered during Art Basel Miami. What I’m trying to illustrate is how my process is all part of this ecosystem of friends and collaborators with some projects leading to others.   

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

The city itself is not the subject of my art but the energy of New York City helps me to create my art, anywhere.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like New York?

New York can be very noisy and chaotic so it's always a balance to not let that get to you.
I try to not be so attached to outcomes - with anything including my art, and to focus on my own desires and less on other people's accomplishments.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in New York?

Art and cultural facilities in New York are and have been increasingly closed off and made unaffordable for a majority of the people who live in the city.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

Primarily it’s the local government’s responsibility to improve the quality of people’s lives in their city. The artist plays an integral role in this function however by raising awareness through activism. I consider myself an activist. I am interested in gender politics, feminism, and health. I’m interested in the politics of the body, which are deeply connected to food and the environment. I think society is waking up to what we put in our bodies, and to health consciousness in general. Everything is connected. I think we should consider the impact of our choices as consumers - to vote with our wallets, you could say. I adhere to a vegan diet,

which is inherently a feminist act. For example, the dairy industry is really the subjectification and exploitation of female bodies. And we don’t need dairy, do we? We have soy, the milk from nuts. I’d like to see further development of alternative models of consumption, which mirror our alternative models of thinking.
I’ve tried to take material steps to raise awareness about the issues I consider important. In 2016 I started the NY FEM FACTORY and through this collective, we bring together various female artists for literary readings, art exhibitions, and live immersive events. It’s a platform for not only my ideas but for exposing as many people to the female artists involved.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

I’m working on my third photography monograph and publishing a second collection of poems. I am excited to also release an old film I directed in 2011 online, SUN IN MY MOUTH. The film has only been previously viewed at film festivals and private screenings so I thought now would be a great time to share it given the nation-wide quarantine.

If you could add or change something about New York, what would that be?

The noise.

Describe the perfect day for you in New York.

A day where I don't have to leave my neighborhood

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

They say never meet your heroes. I’ve done a lot of manifesting in regards to collaborations and many of them have happened but more of them have not. The ones that didn’t happen or ones that failed were because I placed high expectations on their outcome. Instead I look at what’s in front of me and take the opportunities with collaborators that feel most organic and aligned in the moment. As my hero Esther Hick would say, “Chill, focus and expect.”

What do you do to switch off ?

I practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) everyday and that’s my mandatory unplug time.

What Does Home Mean to You?

Home means having a connection to source energy (speaking of Esther Hicks) and by cultivating a vibe that I can create in any environment. For me that means practicing a routine that includes eating well, getting sleep, being active and meditating.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does New York evoke a personal smell to you?

My home is near the water so the air has that fresh sea breeze on windy days. I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Carroll Gardens, which is named for the unique large front gardens of the brownstone residences. Think of the aromatics of a flower bed after a rainy day and that’s Carroll Gardens. It evokes a throwback feeling to my childhood on the east coast.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Golden hour is the best. The way the light hits the buildings in the city before the sun sets, it really can’t be replicated. I feel grateful to be alive in these moments.

If you weren’t living in New York and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

I feel really connected to the desert and plan to buy land in Nevada. I'm all about that dry heat and silence.

How is the current situation affecting you and your work as an artist/creative living in New York?

It doesn't feel like a particularly creative time for me right now. Even though this time has allowed me to catch up on forgotten tasks, I've mostly been reflecting on what’s important which is to remain aware. I do find myself in an expansive place however, listening more and taking advantage of time to commune with nature and practice more yoga - things that keep me grounded. The spring is here and the city is in full bloom but the bustle is gone, the emptiness is evident. Just like New York, artists are fragile but we are also resilient.

city window views

A personal view of the city during these current time

See Jessica Yatrofsky's citylikeyou profile page here


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