Q&A: Matthew Jessie — Temporal Nature

15.06.21

What is it that interests you about photography? What continues to interest me most about photography is the particular way the medium allows me to interact with the passing of time and unfolding of events beyond my control. I feel that many of my most successful images are ones that can’t be remade in any easy way and are the result of the aligning of technical understanding, deeply concentrated observation, and a bit of luck or chance. To me these images are in many ways revelatory and allude, more or less subtly, toward innate qualities of human experience and existence. Most used cameras? A Wista 45 SP, Sony a7R II. Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? I am definitely a minimalist and have evolved into this way of life more and more over the past few years. Having become more concerned with my individual contribution to climate change, more loathsome towards material clutter, and more appreciative of fewer yet higher quality possessions, for me, this particular philosophy and way of living weighs less heavy on my conscience. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Our inability as global citizens to unite in battling the biggest threats to human existence and to seemingly disregard any feeling of responsibility for the wellbeing of the same future generations that will be baffled by this.

Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. I wish I were able to have photographed the now extinct Carolina Parakeet, one of only two parrots indigenous to the United States. I learned of them this past summer while researching endangered and extinct animals of the Southeastern United States. The last captive specimen died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. While we’re most all aware of endangered and extinct plant and animal species, this particular example struck a chord within me. Not only because of their having existed in the landscape of my childhood home in Eastern Tennessee, but after reading of their majestic beauty, compassionate behavior, and tragic end directly caused by humans, it really put into perspective, even more so, the very real environmental threats we continue to both face and cause as a species. After researching the amount of animal and plant species we have lost and continue to lose, I’m even more baffled by anyone’s inability to acknowledge the dire situation we now face and lack of desire to do all we can to correct our current collective course. I just wish I had the opportunity to create a photograph that could serve as the quintessence of this beautiful creature, which like many others met their unfortunate end as a result of our “progress.” What is your plan for the next 24 hours? In a few hours from now I’ll be teaching my Intro to Digital Photography class at Arizona State University. We’ll be having our third critique of the semester so I’m looking forward to seeing the progress of my students. After that I’m going to pack for a weekend camping/hiking/exploring/photographing trip in an undecided area of the Arizona portion of the Sonoran Desert. I always look forward to winter in the desert because that is when the temperatures are safe enough to finally get back out in search of experiences that cannot be had within the comfort of my apartment in Tempe. Describe a personal Hell. Witnessing the many detrimental effects of social media on contemporary society at both the individual and collective levels.

What object do you need/What object do you want? A four-wheel drive truck. What part of the planet would you like to explore? The most remote areas of the Sonoran Desert. I am working on it though. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. While this is nearly an impossible question to pin down an answer for, my strategy for doing so is to describe the first image that came to mind after reading the question. The first image to do so is one created by my friend and mentor Mike Smith, titled Gray, TN, 1996. This color image is of a ploughed, yet empty garden in winter. A light dusting of snow lays atop the high points of each plough mark as well as the surrounding landscape. What I most appreciate about this image is that while it is beautifully descriptive, there is an underlying, subtly sublime aspect of poeticism to it. I won’t spoil it by reading my interpretation of the poem for you though. Describe a cheap thrill. Over the summer of 2020 I was exploring a cave in Eastern Tennessee and came across a solitary, adult Southern Cavefish living in a small pool, deep within the cave. I visited it multiple times throughout the summer attempting to photograph it, but never really made any images I am satisfied with. Southern Cavefish are endangered and seeing that this particular one was living out its life in solitude weighed pretty heavy on me. I was honestly baffled by its presence to begin with, as there were absolutely no other ones to be found, at least in the areas I explored. I must have visited it over five times during the summer and plan to see if it is still around when I return this winter. I would consider this to be a cheap thrill because while it is a long trek to reach the pool the cavefish lives in, it didn’t cost a thing and was definitely a thrill.

“Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Temporal Nature is an ongoing series of black and white photographs emphasizing an importance for greater consideration of the natural world in the 21st century. Devoid of any direct evidence of man, the images point towards our inseparable relationship to nature through poetic uses of visual language. They are meant to function as archetypal manifestations of what will be lost as a result of environmental threats, and the evolving recognition of our place within the Anthropocene.

These photographs visualize my hope that not all is yet lost, while acknowledging the dire predictions for the future of our planet. In light of these predictions I feel driven to share through my intuitive practice a depiction of these seldom-visited, wild places that accentuates photography’s abilities to both trace and transform. Ultimately, alluding through metaphor towards what purely scientific data can’t ­­− the sublimity of nature.

Since the summer of 2018, this work has led me to explore what still remains of seemingly untouched wilderness in the southwestern deserts and southeastern forests of the United States. Traversing in solitude into remote landscapes, often for miles, I search for ways to create visual interpretations of my experiences in the land, engaging with the non-human world in ways that bridge a perceived lack of connection between man and nature.

Matthew Jessie (b.1987) is a photographic artist and educator based in Tempe, Arizona. He received an MFA in studio art from Arizona State University in 2020. Originally from the small Appalachian town of Rogersville, Tennessee, Matthew developed a particularly close relationship to the natural world and to the culture and landscape of the Great Smoky Mountains at an early age. He received a BFA in Studio Art from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee in 2015. Matthew’s work has been featured by publications including Oxford American’s: Eyes On The South, The Heavy Collective, Palm* Studios, and others.

To see more of Matthew Jessie’s work visit — Website / Instagram.