Our fourth interview is with photographer Jona Frank. Jona’s work has been a great source of inspiration for us. The impact Jona’s portrait of ”Dustin” has on our work is hard to put into words in this caption. The portrait captures the journey of adolescence and what is like not to conform or fit in. A theme that has become an integral part of our brands ethos. It is raw, vulnerable and brave.
In your work it is clear that you explore how we discover our Identities. Tell us a little bit about your approach to this subject and why it is so central in your work.
I recently saw this quote by Rita Mae Brown, who wrote Rubyfruit Jungle: “The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.” I think that really sums it up. We have to define who we are for ourself. We have to be true to our self. This is an ongoing process. That’s why adolescence is continually interesting to me. It’s a time where people are trying on identities and seeing what is comfortable. They express this through clothing and music and hair. It’s public. I remember when I was making the High School photographs there was a Girl Scout I photographed when she was in the 9th grade and I met up with her again in the 11th grade and she was a raver. Same face, same posture, but wow, a whole different persona! She was experimenting, defining herself and figuring out where she belonged. She was accumulating experience and I think that’s an essential part of growing up and finding one's identity.
Do you think that the premises of what we build our identities on are changing with the younger generations today?
I think youth are constantly challenging and exploring identity. When I worked on my series High School, I was fascinated that some of the social groups were identical to the groups that were in my own high school. Just the notion that some social groups self-perpetuate decade after decade: the marching band, the chess club, the cheerleaders. But, then there was this whole new boldness that I found of kids being stronger and louder and fearless: LGBTQ groups and anime groups and academic groups. Kids who scoffed at the hierarchy and said they would not hide their identity. It was amazing. It was progress and it was a beautiful thing to make a record of.
In your latest book ”Cherry Hill”, you reimagined your own childhood through staging and recreating your own memories. In a way you told us a story about your own identity discovery. How was this shift of focus and did it give you any new insights?
What I have done with Cherry Hill is to essentially take what I have been exploring for twenty years and flip it on its side. I have been asking people to tell me their story and I felt like it was time to tell mine. I really struggled with who I wanted to be and who my family wanted me to be. It’s been a huge catharsis to tell this story. It is seemingly so simple, but it’s all about being told you are one thing when inside you know you are not — when you need to discover what defines YOU instead of being told what defines you. It was hard, but I am incredibly grateful for the journey. And, I am overwhelmed by strangers who have contacted me and thanked me, shared their own stories of struggling to be their true selves.
Did you belong to any subcultures yourself growing up?
For the most part, no. When I was in high school I had no homeroom, no lunch period, no study hall. I worked in the principal’s office and observed all the groups. The irony! I was observing and recording then, but without a camera.
Thank you for participating, we can’t wait to see what you do next. What are you working on now?
Thank you so much for reaching out. Right now I am working on exhibitions of the Cherry Hill work. It’s not all photographs. There will be installation work and I am embroidering houses and making a short film about suburbia. The first exhibit opens at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in January 2022. And, when I can, I indulge in research for my next book about a tragic love story.