/14 Portraits

Jo Ann Walters

Vanity + Consolation

I grew up in the Middle West in a small blue-collar town on the Mississippi River and experienced estrangement and shock as I moved farther and farther away from home. After photographing the landscape in the small villages and towns where I had once lived, I began my portraits of women, girls, children and their families as a way to look inward and remember, to question my surroundings and to examine what felt like a kind of homelessness. My imaginative response was to retreat inside. I rarely ventured outside homes, backyards and private gardens intent on showing the complexities and forcefulness of inner life. The landscape receded, still important and symbolic, but now becoming a ground to build character.

After all, the world I photograph remains the world of my childhood. I have tried to make pictures from this place, the place of an insider, with all of the contradictions and ambivalence this implies. The women and girls in my pictures stand in as surrogates struggling with conflict between heart and body. The challenge as I see it is to break through an ancient and nearly impenetrable surface of vanity and to seek out the small cracks, the holes and whorled places that hold our pain, our sadness and our beauty.

I understand my work much like one understands a rudimentary map. It is a modest effort to understand the diffuse and complicated scale of spirit and sensuality.