Emelia Hicks-Jablons
Instagram: @emmyhicksj

I started this semester in Berlin rephotographing informational images displayed on cigarette packages I collected from the street. I found myself seduced by this imagery and its unapologetic drama; a couple crying at a funeral, a woman coughing up blood, a pacifier transformed into a cigarette. I was in part drawn to these images because their language was foreign to me, but mostly I was interested in the fact that, despite their severe violence, no one really paid attention to them. My observed interaction with this imagery felt like a larger metaphor for my personal numbness to images at large. I find it increasingly difficult to be genuinely affected by a photograph due to their overwhelming presence in our digital world. In rephotographing these functional images I’m asking them to be looked at more intensely (eventually as large prints) through abstracting them by removing accompanying text and creating close crops to emphasize their texture as manufactured images. I’m interested in the power rephotography can have in transforming the way we interact with an image. Specifically, how a close crop of images that exist in and out of pockets eventually destined for the trash can be slowed down and engaged with as formally engaging photographs.

Upon returning home to my family’s farm in Northern California to begin my quarantine, I was suddenly in an environment stripped of imagery and mass media that make up the urban landscapes I often photograph. This transition from the visually foreign to the familiar forced me to engage in subject matter I previously deemed unphotographable: nature. Similar to someone hyper familiar to the cigarette images, I never thought to place photographic attention to trees and grass as I was unsure how to claim these images as my own. However, making something out of nothing became an exciting formal challenge. I began to notice a visual relationship between the rephotographed cigarette figures and the photographs documenting the farm, specifically their shared interest in investigating texture as evidence of human presence and consumerism. In pairing these works together, the cigarette images become the portraits, the faces to confront. Despite the different spaces these images were made in and their variance in subject matter, I was struck by their shared relationship to the ground. In the process of making both types of images, I was focused on looking down. Somewhat subconsciously, this means of photographing became a meditative act; one that allowed me to investigate traces of human presence in urban and rural land.