March 15, 2023
CALL AND RESPONSE
Photography by Emily Passino, Vin Sharma and Lisa Jayce
Interview by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
Can three women at different stages in life from different cultural backgrounds create cohesive visual conversations, each contributing prompts which the others build upon? Can this process forge pathways forward personally and more broadly?
While The Blue Hour Photo Collaborative — created with a nod to improvisational jazz and wide-open possibilities — is only two years old, their collaboration feels far older, deeper. The women of The Blue Hour met in the Close to Home Photo Salon in the height of the pandemic, a period which proved to be both transitional and transformative for them. After admiring each other’s work and thoughts in that virtual community, they recognized they felt a kinship, a shared interest in examining time — seasons, transitions, hours of the day, memory, the arc of life — which they wanted to explore artistically.
Their body of work CALL AND RESPONSE creates pictorial conversations through the device of triptychs. Each triptych includes one photograph from each photographer and is not complete until all three agree the story has been discovered. The project stems from the calls these women hear within and around — the human cries to be seen and heard, lost and found, and ultimately to be connected with one another. Whether linked by subject, compositional elements, or mysterious impulses, each visual exchange is intended to evoke an idea — an emotion — to create a melody of sorts that is more than each photo itself might call to mind.
“… a single photograph, it’s provocative, it’s an idea, but if you can do two or three, maybe you make that a phrase, and if you can do it in ten, maybe it’s a sentence …. Relations among photographs constitute a visual grammar or a musical piece … like an essay ….”
“This is the power of gathering: it inspires us, delightfully, to be more hopeful, more joyful, more thoughtful: in a word, more alive.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH
THE BLUE HOUR PHOTO COLLABORATIVE
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Welcome to The List! Please tell us about yourselves and the full story behind the project? What was the inspiration?
BLUE HOUR: As Blue Hour photographers, we bring a range of experiences and practices to this group endeavor. Lisa Jayce, based in New York City, makes images exploring what feels unresolved within her heart and mind, the lives of others, and the natural world. Emily Passino, based in Nashville, Tennessee, considers the nature of contemporary culture primarily through shooting social landscapes. And Vin Sharma, based in Brooklyn, NY, explores the connectivity of our intimate lives, visually displaying our effect on each other and the world around us. Not only has The Blue Hour become a source of creativity for us, but it has also forged a friendship grounded in our shared love of photography, imagination, and expression. We continually draw energy from our dialogues about the relationships between images and look forward, as Vin says, towards “tumbling gently” into 2023 to see where this all may lead.
Our Blue Hour collaboration began in 2021; we were all feeling restless and decided to unite for a small, undefined, long-distance creative project. During our first marathon Zoom session, we discussed the pandemic’s influence on daily rhythms, how amorphous time had become, and how it felt as if we were living in a worldwide liminal space. Building upon these ideas, we noted we were at different points in the bend of life, wondering how that, too, affected the sense of who we were. We agreed we could use our photographs to delve into these concepts.
Familiar with virtual ways to keep in touch, we began with a small exercise and built three separate triptychs, starting with a prompt photo from each one of us that might have some connection with time. The process itself was astonishingly gratifying! And just as we were experiencing the synergy of collaborative creation, SHOTS Magazine released a Call for Entry with the theme, “Collaboration.” It seemed a sign straight from the universe: we were meant to be doing this! As The Blue Hour, we continued to build triptychs, submitted a few, had four selected – and proceeded to make more. We also came to realize that the number THREE itself has a spiritual, religious aspect to it in virtually every culture, which we began to sense ourselves.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the project feeds our souls. There is the inventive aspect, but also the connections between ideas, feelings, and people. So what we thought of as a short-term exercise has grown into a commitment to continue exploring the process and ideas together.
TPL: How did you each get your start in photography?
BH: Vin has always been drawn to the visual arts. Initially she studied Architecture and had a 35mm Canon as a teenager for her family trips back to India. Finally in her 40s, Vin went back to her first love of photography and began to take it more seriously.
Emily has been interested in photography since working with her father in his darkroom while growing up, but it wasn’t until her 60s when she first learned about street photography that she began being more deliberate about image making—learning from local photographers, visiting galleries and museums, and studying and exploring.
Lisa had no childhood camera but has appreciated the arts and creativity for as long as she can recall. It was actually the pandemic that brought her to photography—at a friend’s suggestion, she began using her iPhone’s camera while walking as meditation, and that got her hooked. Hungry to learn more, she read up on composition, feel, and tone and studied photographs, experiencing a breakthrough emotionally—now flourishing, rather than languishing.
TPL: Talk to us about your individual photography practices and how they are the same or different from what you do together?
BH: In many ways, our individual practices are different from the work we do together, though the processes are definitely linked.
When working alone, our approach boils down to shooting what catches our eye or heart — following our curiosity — then selecting and processing the photos in our own style, telling our own personal stories. As individuals, we have more focus and a longer thread of a story, or so it seems at this point. By contrast, the collaborative work includes a wider range of possibilities and feels like a looser, more open-ended form of discovery.
The magic comes when we start our “call and response” Blue Hour sessions. In music, when a musician offers a phrase and another musician answers — perhaps with a question themselves — there can be a kind of musical conversation moving the song along in ways that can be unexpected and purely satisfying. We experience a similar delight when developing these visual sentences, these triptychs. The heart of our pleasure is bringing photos we have created individually (recent as well as archived ones), and together, finding those that work in concert.
During our triptych-making process, at times, the response photos have led to entirely different sequences. Often the initial image has wound up in the middle or at the end of the arrangement. We’re convinced that the “naming” of the triptychs helps us see what they are about. All of this is instructive.
Our work together has felt like a gift, schooling us again and again in uncertainty, which of course is easier to reflect on than to live through. Over time, we have learned to honor the process we call “creative limbo” in which we try not to despair if we cannot find an immediate response to one another’s photos. Instead, we attempt to lean in and open further, waiting for a message to reveal itself.
We would each say that the Blue Hour process has affected our own individual processes so that we now slow down with our own work a bit more – there is more trusting, feeling, and watching to see what potentials lie there too.
TPL: What is it that you love most about your collaboration?
BH: Let’s start with our similar sensibility, which comes alive during and between meetings. Beyond our photos, we share recent readings — books, poems, and articles — exhibits we’ve seen, music we’re listening to, and morsels of goodness we’ve encountered in the world, all of which raise our collective spirits.
It is these exchanges that prime us for linking various images and seeing new pathways of thought as we reimagine how our own work fits into a larger whole. Through experimentation, we discover how our individual images might connect beyond subject matter—perhaps by shape, lines, mood, tempo, light. Often, a photo’s “meaning” or identity can shift, assuming beautiful new forms when placed in combination with other photos. As for the technical side, we have each grown through the process as well, picking up new approaches for harmonizing color, cropping, and playing with different aspect ratios.
Most refreshing are the dynamics at play within our creative process — fluidity and trust, openness, deep listening, and mindfulness of the other come to mind—attitudes which feel sadly absent in today’s polarized climate. As Blue Hour members, we strive for consensus and honest communication when making decisions about images to include and sequences—consensus in the Quakerly sense, which doesn’t mean “unanimous” so much as it means if two of us feel something is “right,” our third partner can either go along, or dive deeper until there’s a mutual understanding. If none emerges, we take time or agree to place images in “future pools,” paused but not forgotten.
TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us and the reason for their significance?
BH: Pardon our long list, but the following photographers are all essential to mention: Sally Mann, Cig Harvey, Dayanita Singh, Doug Beasley, Vivian Maier, Sandra Cattaneo Adorno, Rebecca Norris Webb, and Graciela Iturbide! Each of these visual artists, in their own manner, examines the emotional aspects of people and places, creating highly evocative images, which we admire. The photos we tend to favor include explicit and implied narratives — elements that appeal to our interest in storytelling — attention to the details of everyday existence, and an interplay between the magic and realities of life.
We are so thankful to have met one another and for the ever-expanding insights that have resulted.
TPL: If you could just choose one photographer to shoot alongside for a day, who would you choose? And why?
BH: We can’t identify any specific person but certainly someone open to thoughtful conversations about images. While at this point, we each prefer photographing on our own — following our own vision and going at our own pace—we would be honored and humbled to sit alongside any of the above photographers, perhaps in a workshop to raise questions and receive feedback.
TPL: What cameras do you each use now? Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography?
Vin – Canon R-5; Lisa - Fujifilm X100F; Emily - Fujifilm XE2S. These are our primary cameras, though we also each use our iPhones and have other cameras we may pull out. It’s entirely possible that these cameras help us achieve our vision, but none of us is particularly tech-oriented.