Jamaica Plain has a thriving art scene, so it’s no surprise that many choose to make the neighborhood their artistic home. Photographer Judith Daniels has lived in (and has been inspired by) Jamaica Plain for a total of around 20 years, and has documented its landscapes, its energy, and its quiet moments in her series JP de Nuit. She will also be participating at the JP Open Studios, an annual celebration of the arts in the neighborhood, which takes place September 24 to 25.
Judith recently discussed her work and the neighborhood she loves with CBSBoston.com.
CBSBoston.com: How did you get started in photography, and why did you decide to transition from painting?
Judith Daniels: Actually I went from painting to weaving. I was weaving on a floor loom for myself and then got a job as an Oriental rug restorer. Since I was weaving all day I wanted to do something different at night and that is when I started doing photography. I initially did black and white work in a darkroom but then early on started doing color digital photography. I loved working with color digitally- it felt like a cross between painting and photography. Now, I’ve recently gone back into textiles, specifically felting, which to me is like painting with wool so I’ve come full circle again. After working digitally for many years on my art photography and working at MIT during the day doing photo editing, photography, video and presentations, I had the need to do something tactile again.
For me, it’s just essential to be able to make things, whether photographs or something you can wear. I’m drawn to the mystery and the intellectual aspects of fine art work but I also am attracted to the idea of being able to make something beautiful that can be used in everyday life. I seem to go back and forth between the two worlds.
CBSBoston.com: What makes Jamaica Plain such a dynamic place for artists? What is it about JP that inspires you?
JD: Jamaica Plain is a special place for artists and everyone else. It is one of the more diverse locations in Boston and has been for many years—there is a real mix of ages, cultures, working class people, artists, musicians, upper middle class people, poor people, Latino, African American, white, Asian, gay, straight—we’re all here in JP and there is generally a very tolerant attitude for all kinds of lifestyles.
When I first moved into my loft about 14 years ago I was quickly embraced by my neighborhood association, [which was made up of] many people who had lived in the neighborhood for generations. When the artists next door were in danger of being moved out of the lofts they in which they lived the neighborhood association supported them and the city helped them to figure out a way to buy their units so that they could have a permanent place to live and work. I also was able to buy my loft through a special program through the city that helps artists to purchase permanent studios. Consequently, I’m surrounded by artists. Recently we’ve started having potluck brunches and dinners together in the parking lot behind our building.
My husband and I have created an outdoor container garden and have a table out there where we have been getting together. Our neighbor Tim has a table, a barbeque and a smoker back there and on occasion a telescope. On any given week you may find an architectural designer, a painter, a gallery owner, a writer, a sculptor, or a musician at the brunch or at impromptu dinners. Neighborhood people walking by will stop for a chat and a sweet roll or a glass of wine. There is a real synergy starting to happen.
In addition to the great people JP is also a green paradise—we have Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum, Franklin Park, and the Forest Hills Cemetery and numerous community gardens. I love being surrounded by the natural world while having access to the culture of the city of Boston. When I first moved to Boston from California many years ago these parks were a lifesaver for me, as I didn’t have a car and was thirsty for green space.
CBSBoston.com: How did your series JP de Nuit come about?
JD: I’ve always loved Brassai’s photographs from his book Paris de Nuit. For years I had a dog that needed to be walked at night so I was used to walking and viewing the scenes around JP. There is so much here that makes great visual material so I decided to do a series called “JP de Nuit” in homage to Brassai. It has given me great pleasure to show this series to people who live here who will say “Oh, wow, I’ve walked past that many times and never noticed it until now.”
In my photo work I like to make the ordinary somehow extraordinary through light and color.
CBSBoston.com: Why do you think the JP Open Studios is an important event for JP artists?
JD: I think I’ve done it every year but one since I moved back to JP about 14 years ago. I enjoy talking to the people who come through my studio and it’s a great way to see old friends. It’s also a way to sell work and to get feedback about new work. Through the Open Studios I’ve also gotten opportunities for shows and recently was approached by someone that I knew who was on the board of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy to take a photo of their new home in the Fenway at night so unexpected things can happen.
CBSBoston.com: What do you think of the arts scene in Jamaica Plain? How do you think it has evolved?
JD: There have been some new small galleries opening up in Jamaica Plain. My neighbor Brent Refsland opened has a small gallery called the Hallway Gallery and is going to open another design and furniture gallery in the fall called Room 68. There is also a gallery at Green St. Station on the orange line called the Axiom Gallery which has some challenging new and experimental media work. Before it was Axiom it was the Green St. Gallery, which had a lot of really fine work of all kinds. The SOWA galleries in downtown Boston have regular “First Fridays” where they have openings of new work at the same time. There always seems to be a good crowd of people coming out for that.
The DeCordova Museum and the Danforth Museum really try to support the local artists and have some interesting shows of their work on a regular basis. The Photographic Resource Center provides ways for the photographers of Boston to have access to shows, critiques and talks that explore serious issues in photography. Since I’ve gotten interested in crafts again I’ve seen many opportunities to sell work—which makes me happy!
To see more of Judith’s work, visit www.judithmdaniels.com.
Interview by Stephanie Valera, CBS Local