In Conversation: Janice Reid
Janice Reid is an emerging artist based in Brampton, Ontario and a new artist on FFOTO.com. Recently FFOTO’s Cassie Spires sat down with Janice for an interview exploring her two series, Real Love and Pressure. The interview also examines Janice’s practice, the impact of the pandemic, her future plans, and more.
Real Love and Pressure are both available on FFOTO.com. Both series are beautiful and deeply emotional. Through this interview, the passion that went into the photographs and that goes into Janice’s practice as a whole is made evident.
Cassie Spires: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. Let's jump right in: Can recount a formative experience that put you on the path towards becoming an artist?
Janice Reid: I don’t have a singular experience that I can say has placed me on this path. I wasn’t enrolled in any art programs as a child, but my siblings and I were really creative. I failed art in grade 12 and was denied admission to OCAD’s undergraduate photography program. I believed I wasn’t good enough to be considered an artist. I am grateful to receive opportunities like my solo show at BAND Gallery, participating in CArt Caribbean Art Fair and NIA Centre for the Arts art fairs and now being a featured artist on FFOTO to prove otherwise.
CS: What was the conception of Real Love?
JR: The Real Love series formed out of my bonding and friendship with Justine, the model in the series.
I’ve always had the intention to explore Afrofeminism in my work, to create a story and for it to be about the unfolding of Black womanhood. In Real Love, it was broken down in three vignettes. We are looking at the assumptions that are made when you see her in different spaces. How does your perception of her change when she’s in a natural setting versus Kensington Market in Toronto? Our environment plays a role in how we’re depicted and how we’re seen - these assumptions are how prejudices and stereotypes are formed. In the urban environment you assume that she is hard, cold, or unwelcoming. But then you see her in the meadow where she’s looking very free and very relaxed.
With Real Love I was really adamant about only working with Justine for the series. I was like, “Do you want to shoot? Let’s shoot. Let’s keep on shooting.” We shot the three different scenes across the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and the last one was in Brampton, Ontario. A lot of people think those portraits were made in the US, in the South, but it’s Brampton. Even some of the scenery that I shot in Kensington Market, people don’t think it’s Toronto, but it is.
That’s what I like about Real Love - even though it can be seen as just a pretty editorial or a bit fluffy, it doesn’t transpire that way. When I have shown the series, people would say they see their mothers, their sisters. A lot of people across the diaspora, they see themselves in Justine. I find that to be the most powerful thing about the series - the reaction of everyone to it. I got a lot of incredible feedback from it when I had it up BAND Gallery and the Gladstone Hotel. Even now, it has helped to solidify me as an artist. It has catapulted me to a place where people know me based off this work. Which I’m forever grateful for – that Justine even lent her time, and that she helped me create one of my favourite bodies of work.
CS: Can you tell me more about Justine and your relationship with her? I have read her described as your muse.
JR: She’s a close friend of mine. We met through Model Mayhem and we hung out with each other over the summer and I just shot the series of her. As a friend she has taught me a lot. Just her as a person, to see how strong an individual can be. She’s very resilient, radiant and graceful. I guess that’s what drew me to wanting her in my life. I really appreciate her. She helps me to stay grounded. I would say I’m very, very thankful to have her in my life and to have received all the teachings that she has given me.
CS: What is the conception of Pressure?
JR: I also met Mikhail through Model Mayhem. I reached out to him and then we shot Pressure together. I didn’t really have a mood board or anything like that with Pressure. It was more of a feeling I was capturing. And it’s really cool that he expressed exactly what I was feeling at the time. Frustration, anger – everything that series shows. He’s very talented and gifted as a model. Both Mikhail and Justine – how they express themselves in front of the lens.
A lot of times you want to give some type of direction, but you don’t want it to be too staged, because part of the magic of it is how it unfolds in front of the camera. I feel like when the image is too posed or when you can see that it has been entirely constructed, you don’t have the same connection. With Pressure I captured a moment in time, and I guess that’s the bones of it - the most authentic moment of photography is when you’re capturing a moment that will never happen again. So, I don’t like to overly direct models, I like it to be them expressing themselves.
It wasn’t a long shoot - just two hours. And we went through different movements, different poses, different expressions, different scenes. It was my first shoot with a male model. But I’m happy that I felt connected, and that it looks like something I’ve created.
In the contact sheet for Pressure, you can see Mikhail expressing a lot of emotions. I was going through a difficult time and was expressing a lot of anger. It made me think: What is normal for women to express anger? It’s not really widely accepted for us to show anger, to show frustration, to show those difficult emotions that are seen to be masculine. When women display anger, it is often mixed with women crying or a display of weariness. It’s more about them being soft in their anguish. You don’t see the strength, the polarization, the inner turmoil of it all. That is strictly reserved for the patriarchy.
So, the way Pressure came out is exactly how I needed it to be. I told Mikhail when I shot it, you brought so much healing to me. Because how I was feeling, you showed it in those images. And he helped me to work through and deal with my emotions through the series.
CS: What would you say drives your process?
JR: When I shoot, it’s mostly because I feel like I have to create something. It’s just instinct. How I approach my work, it’s more of a feeling that I’m chasing. When I’m looking back on the images, I want to gasp, I want to have a reaction to it. I don’t want to shoot anything that I really have seen before, I’m not trying to copy anyone.
And that’s kind of hard right now, I feel, because of the influx of all these images that you see constantly online. You’re always seeing an image. So it’s hard to keep your eye fresh, keep your eye new. Creating something that is interesting to you, listening to yourself, and going with that driving force of creation. Everyone is a creator in this world, and everyone is able to create something original because we are all different.
CS: It’s hard because I think a lot of people are also subconsciously influenced by all the stuff that they’re seeing, even though they don’t realize it.
JR: Yeah, and you know, that’s just the milieu, like the single issue of social media. Your thoughts are not really your thoughts. They’re pushing agendas, ideologies, and beliefs through our smartphone devices. One time I went to Footlocker and I bought these brand-new Nike Air Maxx’s. And then later on, on my way home, I saw the shoes on my Instagram feed, and was like “was I influenced?” So, we’re living in this hyper-surveilled world. And we’re to blame, because we are actively sharing our data and all this information through social media. But it’s hard to be original when everything now is marketed to you as an aesthetic, and it makes me uncomfortable.
CS: How do you draw upon your inspiration?
When I want to work on something, I just take it on, and I say I want to do it, I’m going to do it. Like it’s that force within me, that energy that’s telling me let’s go, let’s create something, let’s do something new. Sometimes even when I don’t want to shoot, I just have to shoot. If you are not inspired, what becomes of you and your work? This is what I have to do, I have to be disciplined, and I have to do it because I need to get better. That’s more of the driving force behind everything and it has little to do with inspiration. I shoot because I feel like I have to get better.
CS: How are the aesthetics in the two series linked, if at all?
JR: I don’t believe there’s a link between Pressure and Real Love. If people see a correlation between them then that’s cool, but it’s not intentional. I guess they could be linked to each other through ideas of the divine masculine and feminine. And the challenges a Black female might have to go though, coming to her higher self. I suppose that’s how they can correlate, or you can tie them together, but I wouldn’t say it’s intentional.
Real Love was outside, it was a beautiful summer, and we just shot outside from May to August. Studios are expensive. I’m really independent; I don’t get funding. But I shot Pressure in a studio because it was winter. And that’s what was also cool about it too, because there’s some coldness to it, and you see the coldness, the iciness of it. That’s another way you can draw them together - the seasons, the femininity, the directness, the interpersonal struggle of it all.
CS: How did you utilize elements of fashion in the two series?
JR: With Real Love the styling was more intentional. It’s mostly vintage, some stuff is newly sourced. I style all my images, but Real Love is way more styled than Pressure. In the meadow Justine is wearing a vintage dress. The dress helps incorporate a sense of timelessness. With the meadow shot, people don’t know when it was shot, and I like what that brings to the viewer. Because it brings you nostalgia, but at the same time is it nostalgia for you if you weren’t alive at that time? What is your actual memory of it? That’s what I’m really interested in, how through fashion, our memory transports us to a time that we weren’t alive, and our memories of that time are constructed through books and films, and other media that we consume. It’s weird how we configure our memories based on that.
CS: What practical concerns has your art faced lately?
JR: In this time of crisis and isolation due to COVID-19, I have been forced to slow down with my practice and other projects that I had planned for 2020. I am now focused on being more intentional with my work concerning who and what I shoot. As health and wellness become more central concerns in our day-to-day lives, whether we realize it or not, we have a responsibility to take care of each other.
Quarantine has also allowed me to catch up on books and films I’ve been meaning to watch and conduct research on future projects. It has been such a difficult time for us all as a collective, and it has raised some holes in our institutions. I hope that we remain conscious of our behaviors and what needs to change.
CS: Do you have any examples or can you elaborate on the holes in our institutions you have observed?
JR: What I was touching on is that we are seeing the decay in a lot of our systems, where peoples’ needs aren’t met. And this was actually before the start of the pandemic. The pandemic just made the cracks more apparent.
Like if we were to talk about George Floyd – it shouldn’t have to take the video of that incident, which is a visual representation of what white supremacy looks like and how it impacts Black people. When the system is not uplifting a community, not helping a community, not really recognizing the community at all, turning a blind eye, this constant battle, it is suffocating. That’s what oppression looks like.
You can educate yourself on social media, but the education obviously should go past the five little slides that you’re reading, right? You’re going to have to educate yourself. You’re going to have to actually sit down and do the learning and unlearning of biases, and have tough conversations with people on how to eradicate this behaviour of white supremacy.
COVID itself, the pandemic is racist –so many Black people and people of colour are being impacted, down to where they live, down to their work. A lot of people who are working in the long-term care homes are people of colour, and they’re passing away. So, the pandemic is also showing that workers are caring for the elderly, and they’re putting their lives at risk, and it’s the same people that you have been oppressing.
Toronto Mayor John Tory recently announced more housing initiatives; that they’re building all these units to stop the over-crowding in shelters and the homelessness issue in Toronto, but that was an issue the city had from before. The pandemic just heightened everything. It just made everything so evident where people are suffering.
Due to the pandemic, people are now starting to actively listen and are witnessing how their ignorance has impacted the lives of certain communities. It’s an awakening for people who knowingly or unknowingly participated in white supremacy. But it’s not an awakening for Black people. Because unfortunately we’re used to this feeling, and witnessing this kind of trauma. We hold it in much of our collective memory.
Having social media play such an integral role in a revolution raises a lot of concerns for me, because it’s more than just a hashtag or a black square on your feed. I was always important. Black lives have always mattered. It didn’t just matter when it became a trending topic on social media platforms. It is an erasure of our ancestors for people to realize today in 2020 there is anti-Black racism, to be like, “Oh my God, Black lives matter.” Like I’m happy that this movement has happened; I’m happy that we’re having this conversation, but this has been an ongoing conversation for fifty, sixty, a hundred years. It is too much of an important conversation to have it solely be on social media.
But, social media has helped. Social media has mobilized and organized people, and you do see it has brought a lot of attention to the issues I’ve spoken about. Especially with social media being a main tool for activism. But it’s also weird that all of this is happening. And you have the companies on social media also doing performative allyships. It’s weird.
The pandemic is not only a public health issue, it’s a mental health issue. It’s affecting every facet of peoples’ lives. It’s a such a tough thing that we are all coming to grips with.
We as human beings, we have never been through a situation like this before in modern times - this is unprecedented. We have never shared a collective trauma. It is trauma in a way – we are secluded. We need touch; people need to see other people. And the pandemic has shut down a lot of that closeness that we get from our friends and family. Some people have not seen their families since March. People are now just getting out of “hermit mode”, and now the second wave is on its way. Globally we had never had an experience that we all can share. Usually it’s just certain races, or certain parts of the world. But now it’s just collectively as human beings, we have shared something. It’s a shared trauma that we’re all going to have to heal from.
CS: What are you planning to work on for the months ahead?
JR: I will be a part of a forthcoming group exhibition with Owen Gordon, Vanley Burke, Christina Leslie, Krystal Ball and Storm Saulter called When Night Stirred at Sea: Contemporary Caribbean Art. This exhibit is a partnership between PAMA and CArt and will be at PAMA (Peel Gallery, Museum and Archives) from October 29, 2020 – February 21, 2021.
CS: What do you plan to show during your upcoming exhibition?
JR: I’m showing Pressure. It’s my first time showing Pressure as a series. I’m interested in how people will react. I’m happy that it’s in Brampton, because I live in Brampton, and I feel like Brampton gets neglected when it comes to the arts. So I’m happy in a sense and also nervous to see how the residents are going to perceive it. I’m showing along with some great artists, and I’m so humbled to be showing with them at this young, very emerging status in my career.
CS: Are there any themes that interest you at the moment?
JR: Identity plays a very important role in the work that I create. Especially Black identity. I want my work to further explore the theme of Afrofemcentrism and ancestry. I found it fulfilling and beautiful when people would tell me after looking at the images from Real Love that they saw their mothers, aunts, and sisters; that they felt such a strong connection with the series.
CS: Aside from the group exhibition, do you have any upcoming projects, or any things you’re thinking about?
JR: Right now it’s difficult to plan. We have to be present in this moment. It’s such a confusing time, so it’s really hard to foresee anything as we are restructuring the way we live. Are people still going to be able to go into galleries? It’s interesting to think about it and how incorporating virtual gallery showings is a new avenue to explore.
I want to do more work the surveillance of the Black female body. As well as Afrofuturism - what does our life look like beyond the lens of racism? Beyond the conversation of white supremacy, how do I integrate my happiness, and my joy, in a future of my own creation. I think that’s really important for us to show now. To have these conversations that are not always being attached to our trauma, and the stereotypes, and the prejudices that have impacted every Black person’s life, which has stolen our sense of self.
I think due to how this year has been going for a lot of people who look like me, it’s important for us to rest. We have had these conversations, all we know are these conversations, and I think that we need the rest, and we need to envision a different future for ourselves. Not what has been handed to us, or what has been spoon-fed to us. And I think that’s where I would like my work to go, I think art is a powerful tool in that sense, and hopefully I will be creating the language to envision this future.
CS: As a student, I am always seeking to familiarize myself with the contemporary art scene. Are there any artists on FFOTO whose work has caught your attention?
JR: Martin Klimas' high-speed photography is truly amazing and inspiring. I am in awe at how he is able to capture chaos and beauty and have them co-exist in a single image.
Interviewer Cassandra Spires holds a BA in art history from Queen's University, and is currently an MA candidate in Ryerson's Photo Preservation and Collections Management program. Her current research interests include Canadian photography and decolonial practices in public institutions.