New York-based photographer and filmmaker Jessica Yatrofsky ventured into poetry for her most recent creative endeavor, “Pink Privacy.” The collection of poems, bound in pink linen and embossed in gold, departs in medium from her past work but continues to explore body politics, beauty, and gender, themes Yatrofsky fearlessly confronts in past photography volumes “I Heart Boy” and “I Heart Girl.” We spoke to Jessica about her beginnings in art, the creative process that went into creating “Pink Privacy,” and her upcoming work at Miami Art Week.
Can you tell us a bit about your background in visual art?
I have always thought of myself as an observer. I started as a painter and studied formally as an applied artist in college. I’ve always cared about recording the world, aesthetics, color, and form. I was lucky enough to have parents who recognized and codified these interests and my father in particular was really instrumental early on. He gave me my first camera, which was not a still camera but actually a video camera. This was a defining moment for me because there was an inherent level of intimacy attached to that device. Using the video camera to record my life and bear witness to the lives around me, [those of] my family specifically, set the tone of what it meant to be an observer and went on to inform my practice as an artist.
Before Pink Privacy, you worked primarily in photography and film. What inspired you to expand into poetry?
Writing has always been a constant in my life but in recent years I was mainly focused on academic writing and I sort of lost touch with creative writing until recently. Returning to creative writing has been such a cathartic process and a throwback to my former poetic self, circa early 2000’s, but now things have changed a bit! I feel that in my 30’s I reached a point where I value servicing myself before others (pun intended). Relationships and lovers demand attention, sometimes attention I was reluctant to give. Recognizing space I’ve been forced to hold, mainly for men, for most of my youth is enraging and “Pink Privacy” brings you into that rage – the humor, the sadness and the confusing longing to still “get it on.” There was a moment that it all hit me, these thoughts, feelings and emotions, came out of the blue really—and I think I was just able to channel that accumulation in the form of words and I couldn’t stop writing, I was obsessed, it was three to four straight days of non-stop writing, and this was out of nowhere! The writing slowed a bit after the initial burst but I ended up with 400+ poems, the first half of which became “Pink Privacy.” And I think there is something to be said for letting the feelings just flow through you, it’s just the capturing that becomes crucial. If I had ignored the call to create and/or judged the process it would have become just another unexecuted idea and I hate that. I’m all about getting projects out and sharing as much as possible when I feel like others can relate. In the beginning I referred to the poems as “mini-roasts” and read them to girlfriends. Most laughed and wanted to hear more so I took that as proof that an audience beyond my friends circle could appreciate these very personal epiphanies too.
Can you tell us about the process that went into designing “Pink Privacy” as a book, and what led you to work with Alphachanneling for the illustrations?
A few years ago I came across this Instagram feed after Jerry Saltz posted one of Alphachanneling’s drawings—it was this elaborate but simple gesture sketch of a penis entering a women and her womb sort of blossoming. Aphachanneling’s work struck me as being so female worshipping and encapsulated the beauty of intimacy and a mood that I felt very in-line with and that complimented the whole vibe of “Pink Privacy.” Of course I immediately started collecting Alphachanneling’s work! It’s all over my home.
Who are some poets and artists who inspired your work on “Pink Privacy,” as well as your practice as a whole?
When I was in graduate school a friend gave me a copy of “Scum Manifesto” by Valerie Solanas and it changed my life. I was hooked, and couldn’t resist the urge to turn every essay I wrote into a manifesto of my own. I have a sense of humor but also see the power and seriousness that the female voice has. These days I try to only read women and have made a serious effort to remove dead white dudes from my bookshelf. I’m really loving poet Elaine Kahn right now; her Twitter feed gives me life. I find film and photography particularly affecting though. I am in awe of film directors like Catherine Breillat and Sofia Coppola, and I draw a lot of inspiration from how they work with their actors and the worlds they create. I have a sincere interest in human expression and since my biggest influences have come mostly from film, along with painting, and performance art, I believe my early experiences with these different art disciplines shaped the style I later brought to my photography and now my writing.
What can we expect to see from you at Miami Art Week?
I have a collective called NY Fem Factory. I like to refer to our crew as an army of multidisciplinary female and female-identifying artists. Each city we visit has had its unique vibe and that also goes for the artists we collaborate with. Each performance manifests differently and that’s always very exciting, particularly working with this group of women during Miami Art Week. For the Satellite Art Show’s program “Performance is Alive,” we are putting together a live immersive performance—appropriately titled “Pink Privacy”—consisting of spoken word by myself and New York-based poet JoAnnesta with accompanying sound and vocals by [Suzi Analogue], incorporating both movement and sculpture by Jillian Mayer, neon artist Dana Caputo and Kate Hush in relation to the female symbol.