Jesse Chehak

Where are you from/based now?

I was born in the San Fernando Valley, grew up in LA, lived in NYC through my twenties and now live in the Southwest. Tucson to be exact but it's only temporary while I finish an MFA teaching fellowship. We're not sure where we'll end up next but seriously considering the Midwest.

What is your background in Photography? What keeps you interested?

I studied with Joel Sternfeld at Sarah Lawrence College and now work with Frank Gohlke in Tucson at the University of Arizona. Both of these incredible mentors push me in ways that keep me engaged and challenged. My interest in photography is and always has been an attempt to represent the beauty I see and feel in the world. What keeps me going is my inability to entirely capture it. If I do, that'll be that. Also my students keep me inspired and critically minded. I love teaching.

What equipment do you use?

Toyo 45AX, Schneider 110, 135, 210 lenses, Mamiya RZ67, Mamiya Super23 69, Leica M6. I shoot digitally on most of my commercial assignments with the exception of a few of my clients.

What is your artistic process? What draws you to a project such as 'Fool's Gold'?

My process involves a fair amount of research and preparation. Basically I develop what I call an "Artist's Inquiry" which is modelled after the scientific experiment approach. This dossier includes my concerns, hypothesis, procedure, and logistical constraints. It becomes a document that keeps me on track and narrows my scope. Of course my conclusion is often radically different than my presumptions. For "Fool's Gold" it was quite simple -- my questions were and still are can I authentically connect with the spirit of western prospecting by using the view camera as a metaphoric vehicle for discovery, appreciation, possibility, and advancement both aesthetically and spiritually?

Do you find it hard to balance personal work with commissioned work?

Yes, as the processes couldn't be more different. Nothing makes me more happy, with the exception perhaps of seeing my son smile, than completing a well paying commission so I can duck out and continue with my personal endeavours. I've been very fortunate in this regard thanks to a strong and supportive network of editors, agency creatives, and my truly remarkable agents who are like family to me.

Is there a particular photographer, site, set of images or a photo book that you keep coming back to for inspiration?

This is a constantly revolving part of my practice and the list is too long to state here. Right now I am reading everything Robert Smithson wrote and looking deeply into the root causes for the rise of Earth Art in the late 1960s/early 1970's. I am very careful to not limit myself to just the photographic arts and am heavily influenced more by the thinking behind the work than the object itself. For example, John Cage is very high on my wall of elders as his attitude toward the art process is one that I subscribe to very much.

Are you working on a project at the moment?

Yes. I just spent two weeks in Colorado shooting the last portion of my "In These Woods" project and am now gearing up for a new endeavour, which involves direct manipulation and interaction with light as material. This project is titled "Blame The Sun." I also just held two exhibitions that involved installation and sound art. Commercially, I continue to take on editorial and advertising assignments as they arise.


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