The Image: Ron Jude, from the series "Nausea"
I took this photograph in the early 1990s, probably late-1991. I was midway through my graduate studies and I had just had breakthroughs on a couple of fronts. One of my professors had recommended that I read Nausea, by Jean-Paul Sartre because of the way I talked about my pictures in critiques. Reading this book had a tremendous impact on the way I thought about how pictures can function. This novel isn’t about pictures, but it crystallized my ideas about why I wanted to look at things in photographs. This all sounds terribly academic, but in an odd way this epiphany freed me from the kind of narrow academic thinking that was pervasive in photography in the late 80s and early 90s.
The other important breakthrough was a visual one. In early 1991 I took a train up to Washington, D.C. from Louisiana to pay John Gossage a visit in his studio. I brought a portfolio of prints that included mostly "good, but utterly uninteresting photographs" as John put it. At the bottom of the pile was a single print that I included because I liked it, but I wasn't sure why. The image had a muddy color palette, narrow focus, and didn’t seem to be trying too hard make a discernable point. John lit up when he saw it and said, "yes, now this one surprises me." He sent me home with a Joachim Brohm catalog, a book of Raymond Carver short stories and an invigorated sense of what sort of pictures I wanted to make.
For the next year or so I lurked around public schools in Baton Rouge, photographing through windows, down corridors, and looking at the oppressive architecture of institutionalized learning. My attitude about photography completely shifted in a few short months. My goal was no longer to make pictures that were "good," but to make pictures that were messy, difficult, surprising and, as Mr. Gossage likes to say, "slightly annoying." I wanted to make pictures that teetered at the edge of mannerism, but never lost their footing in reality. This, I think, is an example of such a picture.
- Ron Jude