Still-life photographer Jenny van Sommers arrived on these shores after failing art school in Sydney and and has gone on to establish herself as one of the most interesting, skillful practitioners of her craft working today, with a roster of clients ranging from Nowness and Another Magazine to Nike, Hermes and Apple. As her latest commission is published in 125 magazine, we spoke to her about past, present and future…
The new work for 125 sees Jenny taking the five Olympic rings and reproducing them in five different set-ups to create a series of shots rich both in beauty and crafstmanship.
Hi Jenny, tell us about this new Olympics project. How did it come about and what approach did you take?
The Olympics project was commissioned by 125 magazine – they gave me an open brief for their Olympics issue, five to six pages. I have always loved the Olympic Symbol, it is probably my favourite graphic of all time – circles and spheres, primary colours and so on. I always work the same way, I sit down and focus on the project and do research, then I forget all about it for about a week, then I get in the studio and just do whatever comes into my head.
Without sounding sycophantic – how on earth did you fail art school? How did that affect your career/artistic development?I failed art school in Sydney for the simple reason that they did not like my end of term project, which was 12 large photographs. They were black and white photographs of buildings, people, things from my life. They just straight up said that they didn’t like them and failed me.
It was interesting because it was very hard to get an F, so I guess they really didn’t like it! The effect it had was to free me from trying to make images for others to approve or like and just do my own thing.
You’ve worked with some massive brands – what in your opinion makes for a good brief? What makes a nightmare client?
A good brief comes from an art director with a strong idea of what they want. Also a very good art buyer is essential, as they have a lot more influence on the outcome than you would think. A nightmare client is one that stands back and has no opinion until the end when they finally tell you what they wanted.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I get inspiration from all over. I drove past a garage the other day that was full to the roof with dark, oily junk, the guy was sitting out the front because he couldn’t fit in his garage anymore it was so full. I want to make a series about that.
I also love modern and contemporary art, I try not to copy contemporary art knowingly but I’m sure I nick ideas without realising. I don’t want to do that, I want to do my own work. My main influences/favourite artists are Sarah Lucas and Ellsworth Kelly.
What do you hope 2012 has in store for you?
I was very busy last year making ads so I am able to produce a lot more of my own work this year. I have started a new thing which is to be in my studio for two days a week without a plan for a project and just see what happens.
I want to produce a lot of personal work in the next year, a lot more than the last ten years. I want to get through what I think of as the more obvious ideas I have … work through them to get out the other side… to something that I can’t get to now.