Jena Ardell is a photographer, a regular contributor to LA Weekly’s blog, a time traveler, and a very smart woman. She captures the nostalgia resting in our bellies and the longing for those sweet moments in life that rest in our hearts. She’s a magician with that vintage Polaroid camera, I tell you (the polaroid shots in this post are exclusive to YM&C). I was obviously taken with her art, but when she completed our interview, I read it over and over, shouting out “Yes!” Right?!” “I know!” Here’s why:
“I’m constantly finding inspiration tucked away in miniscule moments of the seemingly mundane.”
“I couldn’t imagine being anything else. It’s like being “just friends” with someone you’re madly in love with; I couldn’t be “just a hobby” with photography; so I married it. We’re in for the long haul.”
Ashley Arabian: First off, where are you from? Does this ever filter into your photos? And where do you live now?
JENA ARDELL: I am from northern NJ. My family used to own horses. I had a pony, rabbit, cat, dog and hamster while I was growing up. There were cows in my front yard. I had the best childhood ever. I am definitely a small-town girl at heart. I have been living in Los Angeles for the past five years, but I return home every summer. I can’t stay away from the east coast; it’s where I go to recharge. I love L.A., but I need fresh air, warm summer nights and lightning bugs. Humidity and a change of seasons builds character.
I don’t think my background or upbringing visually defines my images. Some of my work carries a small-town feel, but I’m not associated with that theme. I tend to gravitate toward beachy scenes and relics of the 1950s-1970s instead.
A: Do you use older cameras or is the retro look an editing process? (If so, what cameras do you use?)
JENA: My Polaroid work is unedited; and yes, I use vintage Polaroid cameras (primarily the Polaroid Spectra) with expired film. I take pride in not having an editing process with those images, especially the double exposure self portraits. I just scan and crop. As for my digital work, I will apply a warming filter from time to time or mess with the coloration in Photoshop, depending on the mood and subject. Editing is time consuming, so I’d rather not have to rely on it to produce good images.
A: Do you need to have a space to create?
JENA: Since most of my shoots are location-based, I don’t need a specific space to create my photography. I’m constantly finding inspiration tucked away in miniscule moments of the seemingly mundane. I make lists and jot down ideas wherever I go. My desk is usually cluttered and while I’m editing digital photos, I like to have music blaring and the lights off. I also tend to stay up way too late. I should clean my desk now…
A: What subjects do you tend to go back to?
JENA: My Polaroid work focuses on 1960s-1970s Americana and the quintessential summer beach vacation. My digital work also has a retro vibe, but focuses on small moments of happiness and self content. My self portraits tend to have a moodier, voyeuristic vibe. Self portraiture tends to be the most challenging to shoot, but is usually the most rewarding.
A: Have you ever struggled to be an artist? What was that struggle like?
JENA: Of course!! There were times when I thought being a photographer was not a viable career path and that I would not be able to earn a living by pursuing photography. I still think those negative thoughts during particularly self-loathing days. Every artist thinks like that from time to time. You need to have that fear in you to realize that your dreams mean too much to abandon them. It makes you work that much harder to prove to yourself that you don’t have to settle on having a 9-5 job you hate just because it’s the more secure plan. I couldn’t imagine being anything else. It’s like being “just friends” with someone you’re madly in love with; I couldn’t be “just a hobby” with photography; so I married it. We’re in for the long haul.
A: Does music have an influence on your work? What have you been listening to lately?
JENA: Music doesn’t influence my work per se, but music is definitely a huge part of my life. I contribute regularly to L.A. Weekly’s West Coast Sound blog (and when I’m lucky, the print version too). I primarily listen to 90s music: 311, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, The Wallflowers, Nirvana, Fiona Apple, Dave Matthews Band. I love the music scene, but I’m not impressed with the indie band explosion that’s occuring right now. However, I am currently obsessed with ONE indie song: JJAMZ’s “Heartbeat” because it’s so catchy and sounds like it’s from the 80s. It’s their best song.
A: If you were to live in any city in the world, other than the one you are in now, which would it be?
JENA: I’m sort of a wanderer. I still haven’t been able to commit myself to one place; and city life gets too hectic for me. If I couldn’t choose Los Angeles, I don’t know where I would want to live; certainly not New York City. Maybe I’d choose San Diego or Tampa.
A: My favorite question… Your apartment is on fire and you can only grab three things:
JENA: My cat, my drawer FULL of Polaroids and a drawer FULL of old family photos.
A: What’s your favorite year of your life (age) and why?
JENA: I guess 26 because 2011 was an awesome year for me. I was able to cross off quite a few life goals. I interviewed my favorite band (311) in their studio; Rolling Stone contacted me to publish a photo I shot of Dave Grohl/The Foo Fighters; I attended a lot of artsy functions and wrote about them for L.A. Weekly; I went on my first cruise; I collaborated with my favorite painter, Robert Townsend; I shot a lot of awesome photos. Overall, it was a good year… minus what was happening in the world/to the world via Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis and personally struggling with anxiety issues and panic attacks. UGH.
A: If you were an animal, which would you be?
JENA: A spoiled cat with access to a balcony.
A: What colors show your personality the most?
JENA: Minty seafoam green (because it’s beachy) and avocado green (because it’s retro).
A: Any quotes to live by?
JENA: “When too many minds think alike, not many minds are thinking.” ~Anonymous
“As we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves. To do good you actually have to do something.” ~Yvon Chouinard
“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” ~Robert Heinlein