Fine Art Photographer’s Self-Portraiture Pushes Us Beyond the Image

We’re card-carrying Cardin supporters here at The Plus; Dominican-born fine arts photographer Jo Cardin, now working in Rochester, NY, is the artist whose various manipulations of dramatic, twisting female figures have made for an artistic trajectory that has us coming back time and again. Her recent sepia-toned photographs expand the domain of an already complex and conceptual oeuvre, inspired and accompanied as they are by literary quotations that push her audience beyond the image and into the larger cultural sphere of ‘art’.


In this selection of her self-portraits Jo captures the form in motion. Blurring and splitting the subject, she creates moments that in their vulnerability would appear candid, were it not for the careful touch of light and soft shadow, and the measured eye implied by her powerful compositions.

We wanted to find out her thoughts on this most recent chapter of work. Plus, it’s good to get back in touch with old flames.

The Plus: How have you been since we last spoke?
Jo Cardin:
Great! I’ve been focusing a great deal on self-portraiture this past year, as well as continuing to experiment with post-production. I try to do as much as I can on-camera, but I also have a lot of fun with experimenting in post. I’ve continued to explore making my own textures, and using painting in my work, which I do by hand, then add in editing.


TP: Yes, there’s an interesting range of effects in these images – what’s attracted you to this style?
I love film, but don’t do too much of it these days; however, I’m obsessed with making my work look like it’s film. I experiment a lot with my camera (i.e. long exposures, blur, etc.), and love adding layer upon layer in the editing process. I take an image and distress it until it’s beautiful.


TP: Distress physically, or in post?
Great question, and I don’t mine revealing SOME of it…! The portrait in the pink dress, for example, is honestly a crazy mix of layers. It’s a duplicate of the original, warped in too many ways for me to remember! I always try to used pieces of the original image, so as to make it truly original, instead of using stock images.

The portrait with the horizontal lines across the face is an example in which I painted by hand, then scanned and added the texture via Photoshop.


TP: What equipment do you use?
My only expensive piece of equipment is my Canon 6D and lens; otherwise I use a fairly cheap lighting kit, from which I almost always use only one light at a time. I also experiment with all kinds of spotlights. For post, I use Lightroom and Photoshop.


TP: Are these quotations of personal significance for you?
Absolutely. Words have always been the inspiration behind my work. I read a lot and save quotes all the time, then go back to them to spark ideas for shoots. I feel a lot of things, but am not as skilled in verbalizing it, so it’s a therapeutic process to find quotes that describe my image!


TP: Your figures are expressive without being overdramatic; how do you work with your subjects/yourself?
Most of my work is self-portraiture; for me it’s a performance, and I use my background as a dancer to express what I’m trying to convey with movement and expression. When I do work with others as my subject, it’s rarely just a “model” – I work with other artists and have more personal connections to them, so right off the bat it’s a collaboration rather than me just telling them what to do. We talk a lot about it beforehand, and my subjects are quite often a big part of developing the idea. I choreograph little movements, versus telling people to hold a pose.


TP: So you focus on dynamic shoots?
There’s nothing more inorganic than stopping to hold a pose, at least for the type of work I do, where I’m looking for expressiveness. Having been a dancer prior to photography, movement has always been central for me. It allows for an amplification of emotion which is difficult to do in still photography.


TP: Your work frequently focuses on dramatic femininity – why is this an area that proves so fertile for you?
It’s more that it’s all I have access too (haha). My primary job is being a mother to two amazing little human beings, so my time is quite limited. And with my studio being at home, I work with what I have: myself. I don’t actually put much emphasis on sex in my work. To me, my aim is to convey human emotion that connects us all, regardless of sex, race, or background.


TP: So what’s next?
It never stops for me. I really need to create, so it’s part of my everyday. I hope to find new ways to challenge myself, and really hope to get back to film-making, which I got into a couple of years ago.


TP: How do you think your work and creative voice have matured over the past few years?
I think it’s imperative for artists to grow. My work is quite personal to me; in a way it’s a journal that I’m crazy (or brave) enough to share with the world. I’ve worked a great deal on growing as a person, so it inevitably makes it through to my work.