Our series dedicated to meeting the artists and collaborators of Mother/Daughter, continues with EBP founder Lauren Leonard (LL) interviewing photographer Joanna Nowak (JN).
Trained in Fibers at Savannah College of Art and Design, Joanna specializes in portraiture, health & wellness, and editorial photography. She designed the graphics and promotional images for Mother/Daughter and is collaborating with EBP to develop the show this fall and winter.
LL: What brought you to Philadelphia?
JN: I grew up in Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, in a quaint little sh*thole called Reading. We used to come to Philly to get in trouble but then I found a summer program at UArts for high school students and ended up living here for a couple months while learning graphic design and animation. It was my first time living and learning among artists and like-minded people. I fell in love with Philly's music stores, art supply shops, and the strange mix of architecture. To me, it was a cosmopolitan city but it still had a gritty underbelly, so it wasn’t a total departure from Reading. I spent the next few years training in Savannah and working in New York, but that love of Philly brought me back to what is now home.
LL: You do several things well - fine art, photography, graphic design, website design/management- but for purposes of this interview, I’m going to call you a photographer. How did you come to this profession?
JN: Well, goodness, thank you. I’ve been aesthetically-driven for most of my life- arranging things in a visually appealing way is what design (and sometimes art) is about, and there’s something so therapeutic about that. Photography is just an extension of this creative arm - composition and light allow for this. Also, being a painter has taught me so much about photography. I’ve heard photography called “painting with light” and that always tickles me.
LL: The freelance hustle is something you and most artists can identify with. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from being your own promoter/laborer/accountant/everything?
JN: That you can never stop learning and growing. Things evolve and change so quickly because of technology and there's so much to learn from it. Things like learning how to do your taxes with the help of the Quickbooks Self-Employed app (not a plug) or using search engine optimization to drive traffic to my websites. I've also learned the importance of asking for help from people who know what they are doing. I’ve had friends help me with just about everything business-related while I was (and still am) learning. Also, the internet!
LL: As a medium, why do you think photography is so compelling?
JN: It dances on the line of truth. It asks the viewer the question, “Is this real?” before anything else.
LL: In what ways has photography changed now that technology allows everyone to freely and easily capture, share, consume, and comment on images?
JN: Well, everyone is a photographer now, and in many ways that devalues what I do. However, you are no longer in competition with anyone but yourself. The photography world is too over-saturated for it to be any other way.
LL: What makes for a “good” photograph?
JN: It tells a story or evokes a feeling. With digital media being the main way we view and consume photography, it’s easy to make “nothing." It's the story and feeling that draws me to photojournalism.
LL: Do you have a favorite subject to photograph?
JN: Women, particularly in movement.
LL: We’ve collaborated previously, but with Mother/Daughter, we’re taking it to a whole new level. Explain the collaboration around this show, this topic, and where you see it going.
JN: The photography I’m most drawn to is work that pushes our understanding of the subject. For me, the conversation around mother/daughter relationships became one of identity and how we define ourselves through our mothers and through our children and what happens when those dynamics shift. I am looking to work with adopted and trans individuals to explore less traditional relationships between mothers and daughters. I'm also interested in exploring how loss through death and estrangement shifts dynamics.
LL: What intrigues you about the topic of mothers and daughters?
JN: There is an undeniable connection between the two. I am lucky enough to have a very healthy relationship with my mother (I could tell stories about how almost otherworldly our connection is; it borders on ESP, I swear!) Also, the more I photograph and work with women, the more I realize how similar we are. And how our culture of gender inequality has pushed us into isolation and competition. Women are incredible as individuals but such a force when together.
LL: Do you set creative goals or intentions for your projects? If so, is there one you’ve set for Mother/Daughter?
JN: Something I’ve learned recently is that I’m very easily disenchanted when I set concrete intentions for personal work. So this time the goal is to create and to flow. Ideas are about as unpredictable as Philadelphia summers, so I’m letting this one shift, grow, and move in whatever direction it chooses.
LL: When it becomes all about the work, how do you recharge and reconnect with your creative spirit?
JN: I need a change of scenery regularly. And this doesn’t mean walking to the museum or going to a gallery, but changing my environment entirely. Thankfully, Philly's location and access to transit make it easy to GTFO.
LL: Other than Mother/Daughter, what are you most excited to see at this year's Fringe Festival?
JN: I'm still learning how to take in all the Fringe offers, but this year I'm focusing on seeing more dance.
LL: What’s next up for Joanna Nowak Photography?
JN: Oh stop it! We have to finish this project first! But, there are some movement projects coming up. Working with dancers is a dream of mine and Philly is full of talent.
Mother/Daughter Sept 15 8pm & Sept 16, 2pm, Philly PACK (233 Federal)
Joanna Nowak Photography