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Jo Chukualim is a photographer currently based in Cambridge, UK. Jo shares her personal project Growing Pains, a form of visual diary helping her to come to terms with different moments from the past.
You’ve just graduated from Middlesex University. What first attracted you to photography and how would you define your work?
I always say that my interest in photography came about quite randomly, in the sense of being interested in it as an art form and not just something you do to document a moment in your life. I had finished my GCSE exams and was trying to figure out what I wanted to study for my A-levels. I had always been interested in art and had a dream of going into fashion design but didn’t feel confident enough to pursue it. I then came across a short fashion photography short in London and quickly fell in love with directing models and photographing people in general. So, my work at the time was based mostly on fashion editorials and figuring out how I worked best, acquiring contacts in the industry and just gaining experience wherever I could.
My focus right now is mostly on creating strong narratives and I think my work is usually quite direct. It can sometimes be frustrating to look at art in a gallery, read the artist’s statement, and still not understand what’s going on. Even if people don’t connect with the work emotionally, my hope is that they’ll be able to understand what I’m saying or how I’m feeling.
Your project Growing Pains is a deeply personal work about some of the difficulties you’ve faced in your life. What led you to create such personal work and what has it been like to share those images?
Honestly, I never imagined myself doing something like this for a project. I was dealing with some personal battles at the time, which I kept very private but it was the only thing I could think about. Since I began my final major project, I decided to use the opportunity to look at my situation in a different way and offer myself some form of self-therapy. One of the things that has helped me over the years is being able to keep a journal, whether it’s in the form of a poem or just jotting down my thoughts. Growing Pains was simply another way to journal.
I tend to talk about things I’ve gone through in quite an objective way at times, with little to no emotion. It’s a way of distancing myself from those experiences as I try to make sense of them. I think this is also reflected in the way I chose to shoot for this project. The images are constructed and abstract with underlying emotion. It’s my photographic journal.
Do you have a favourite image from the series — can you walk us through what it represents and where the idea came from?
I’ve spent so long with this project but this image always gives me a rush of emotion from a hard couple of years. The model’s expression and her face being hidden in the darkness was a constant state for me – It felt like I was drowning in my own mind. I’ve learnt a lot from going through these experiences and I value my growth and my ability to move forward but this image takes me back so quickly to that scared vulnerable person before I get a chance to put up a wall to defend myself. That’s why I appreciate it. I want to move forward but I don’t want to ever forget what I went through.
Has making the work helped you to move on from any of these difficult experiences? Is there a therapeutic element to your work?
There’s definitely a therapeutic element to my work. I was in the thick of it and needed a way to make sense of what I was going through. I was able to grow from the experiences because it helped me start many conversations. But they weren’t just passing conversations, they were good, honest and open ones that allowed me to work through a lot of it.
What do you hope viewers take from the work?
I wanted my work to be as open as possible from the start but it won’t connect with everyone. I have a quiet and sometimes guarded personality so it has been hard for me, in the past, to be open with my emotions. So it’s a great feeling when people take a look at the images and are able to tell exactly how I was feeling when I created them. They have been very passionate about the way they responded to it and, as an artist, I really cannot ask for more.
What are you working on now/next?
Right now, I’m preparing for my graduation. I want to continue creating photographic projects that are meaningful to me and get back to working with more amazing artists. I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many inspiring people along the way and, for the first time in a while, I’m just excited for what the future will bring.