Some Fraction of the Truth: An Interview With Ron Jude

Written & Curated by Lilly Ball

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There’s a punk rock aesthetic to Ron Jude’s work, a point-and-click, found footage vibe. But there’s a textural edge, too, like Polaroids strewn around a crime scene, or straggling snapshots culled from your reclusive uncle’s junk drawer. His work elicits something in the viewer at once nostalgic and unsettling—out-of-focus scene of a gas station at night, blood on the newspaper fashion page—like stills from a documentary film. But these alluring and strange photographs lead the viewer down an introspective and philosophical path; nostalgia, after all, comes from a Homeric word meaning pain.

 

Is it important for your work to stray away from sentimentality? If so, why?
The trick is not entering into sentimentality for its own sake, but I do want to walk right up to the edge of it and have a good look. It’s a fascinating aspect of how we engage the past, and it’s worthy of consideration.

 

ron jude photography“Ken’s TV” From Emmett, (1984/2010). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 21.5 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

ron jude photography“Rearview Mirror” From Emmett, (1984/2010). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 30 x 21.5 inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

Does the medium of photography help you discover ‘meaning’ in yourself? If so, how?
I’m not sure if that’s possible, but it definitely helps me sift through things in a way that no other medium can. The incompleteness of still photography echoes the way our subconscious works and, if handled properly, can lead us to a sort of ‘pre-narrative’ state. If I can mimic the cognitive chaos of how we actually experience things and distill it into something digestible (without turning it into something linear), it can be like bumping up against ‘meaning’ in a dark room—we have a sense that it’s there, even though we can’t fully grasp or articulate it.

 

ron jude photography“Deadwood Reservoir Stump” From Lick Creek Line, (1998/2011). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 29.625  inches. Courtesy the artist.

ron jude photography“Trap #1” From Lick Creek Line, (1998/2011). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 29.625  inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

Looking at your work, the images feel very tied to you, the perceiver, the observer. In your latest project, Lago, each photograph seems stamped with its own question mark, a puzzle piece, if you will. What are the ontological implications present in Lago?
I’ve been pretty preoccupied with ontological questions for a while now. Hopefully it’s something that’s present in the work, and not just in what I write or say about it. The pictures in Lago are all made in the general area of the California desert where I spent the first few years of my life, so they are indeed tied to me. I wanted to go back there and spend some time wandering around in the heat, seeing if I could figure out if the place shaped my awareness of the world in any significant way. (My assumption has always been that it did.) I think describing the photographs as question marks or puzzle pieces is perfect. That’s how I think of them when I’m shooting and later, when I’m editing.

 

ron jude photography“Abandoned Cabin” From Lick Creek Line, (1998/2011). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 35 x 44  inches. Courtesy the artist.

ron jude photography“Untitled” From Lago, (2013). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

In Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, it states: “Our only way to escape self-deception is authenticity, that is, choosing in a way which reveals the existence of the for-itself as both factual and transcendent.” Do you feel there is an authenticity in what you choose to photograph? 
It’s an ongoing experiment, with more failures than successes, but yes, that’s what I’m trying to do. The thing that’s important to remember about still photography is that the original choice of what to photograph may be informed by a certain idea or goal (such as ‘authenticity’ as defined by Sartre), but ultimately, the context in which that image is seen is more important than the original selection. So, if ‘consciousness itself’ (the way consciousness is always defined in relation to something else), is intended to be central to the way we experience an image of a object, it’s important that the connection of that idea to the object (via the photograph) is established not only through certain restrictions that are placed on what’s chosen and how it’s seen, but also on the complications that are employed in the editing and sequencing of those choices. The complications should be designed to corral a certain set of concerns together in a way that’s accessible through the pictures. I’m trying to establish an expression of these ideas through a visual ‘text’ that can be experienced simply through looking at and thinking about the connections between the images (without having to reference back to the literary jumping-off point). Once those connections are made, I hope it’s possible to also go back to the individual images and see this ‘authenticity’ (if I’ve succeeded) built into each of them in a self-contained way.

 

ron jude photography“Untitled” From Lago, (2012). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

ron jude photography“Untitled” From Lago, (2014). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

Who were your favorite artists and thinkers growing up?
I didn’t really have any. I grew up in a working class home in the mountains of Idaho and was more concerned with waxing my skis every night than I was with reading great literature. From a broad, cultural standpoint, I guess you could say that TV, movies and pop music were all pretty important to me in the sense that they gave me access to the outside world, but I definitely wasn’t reading Camus or looking at anything remotely resembling contemporary art. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I saw and read things that had a real impact on me as an artist. I saw a lot of great photography in books at the library when I was in college, but it was probably the Mike Kelley exhibition I saw on a trip to London when I was twenty-two that gave me my first real sense that art isn’t just about instant gratification, but can also find its power in the difficult and unsettling aspects of our relationship to the world. This is something I think about to this day. There were other people during that period that sent me off in a certain direction—people like Werner Herzog, Paul Auster, Tom Waits… I came across a lot of great stuff in the mid-80s, somewhat arbitrarily, but it was all pretty terrific and had a real impact on how I ended up defining my goals as an artist.

 

ron jude photography“Untitled” From Lago, (2013). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

ron jude photography“Untitled” From Lago, (2013). Archival ink jet on fiber paper mounted to Dibond. 24 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist.

 

What are you currently working on?
I’m in the middle of the nuts-and-bolts part of making a book of Lago. I spend most of my days in the studio working on the files that will eventually go to the printer. Most of the important decisions that go into making a book were made over the past nine months or so, and now I have to prepare everything for press. As soon as that process is finished, I’ll start working on an exhibition version of the project. The book will be published by MACK sometime in early fall of this year with a show to follow at Gallery Luisotti in Santa Monica in January of 2016.

What are you going to do after this interview?
A friend of mine is coming to the studio to teach me the basics of using audio equipment so I can make some field recordings in the desert. After that I’ll probably eat a sandwich.


Ron Jude was born in Los Angeles in 1965 but was raised in rural Idaho. He makes no direct proclamations with his work; the cumulative power is subtle and observant, befitting a sensitive kid growing up among car guys and fur trappers. Proving that these are not mutually exclusive attitudes, his approach to photography is democratic and nuanced, utilizing found photographs, landscapes, portraits, and even pictures he took as a teenager.

Jude has lectured extensively about his work, most recently at places such as The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rochester Institute of Technology and the Carnegie International Satellite Apartment in Pittsburgh. His photographs have been reproduced in Blind SpotHarper’s Magazine, The New Yorker and Doubletake, among others. He lives in Ithaca, NY and teaches photography at Ithaca College. You can view more of his work at www.ronjude.com and follow him on Facebook.


About

Lilly Ball joined FORTH Magazine as Art Director/Brand Manager in the Fall of 2014. She is interested in writing, people, and the forest. lilly@forthmagazine.com.


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