Joyce P. Lopez
fine art photography

Interview by Michael Corbin



Joyce Lopez is an artist who really cares about the environment.  In fact, she cares about it so much that she makes it the focal point of her work.  Her work is as pristine as she’d like our environment to be.


“I am pretty distressed about the fact that people spend less and less time in nature … The density of highly-populated cities can literally make people mentally ill. How can any of us care about nature when we prefer to pave over so much of it to facilitate cars?”


MICHAEL: Hello Joyce, Your work seems very focused on the earth and environmental creation. How did you come to this?





Joyce: You are correct in that my work does focus on the environment. There are probably a million paths that took me here, not that these topics aren’t being discussed today. Shall I say, I yearn for nature while overlooking the Kennedy Expressway where I live. The endless cycle of cars/trucks spewing exhaust into the air. It never ends. Where do they all go? It is like a video loop that never ends.


On neighborhood walks, my eye travels to nature trying to win over the concrete world of city living. Weeds pushing through cracks in the sidewalk, abandoned homes invaded by mold, weeds and fungi. Whenever I have the opportunity to travel, I go to the ocean, to the forests, to hike canyons in the southwest, etc. I feel most comfortable breathing in fresh air, seeing new visuals, new  smells, new textures under foot, more humidity, less humidity, it all makes me feel so much more alive and I want this experience to be available to everyone including those who’ll come after us.


I spent some time in Africa where one day, I met a man whose name was Tessfye. He told me his name means, "Tree to shade 1000 people." What an important name to give an infant on his birth day. Isn't this all of our responsibility to do our part to protect nature so we all can live on this planet? I was very moved by this man's name, thinking how important trees are in Africa especially where finding shade in a hot country can literally save your life.


MICHAEL: I love the way you create photographic compositions of things that actually form a replica of planet earth. Very clever. How do you balance the documentarian or environmentalist-activist side of your work with the artistic side?


JOYCE: Well, I am purposely choosing not be a documentary photographer. Many in the field do a far better job of that. Instead, I am approaching these issues from a fine art point of view, presenting serious environmental matters in a different way.  Some have said of my work, that it is too pretty, but it is my vision. With this approach, the viewer is drawn into the image with serious issues presented in a visually seductive way. Hopefully, an important discussion ensues and maybe changes down the road.


MICHAEL: Isn't it so interesting how the environment has become so politicized?  I mean, we don't have to agree on much, but who doesn't want clean air and water?


JOYCE: Absolutely!  Its sort of like wanting, some of us, to guarantee a healthy life for all, not just the rich.  Seems a no-brainer, just like clean air and water. How could one be so selfish to not want to go that route?  To rape the land for immediate riches.


MICHAEL: As you go through the process of creating your art?  What goes through your mind?  Is it an environmental message?  Or ... is the process more personal and about your emotions or even spiritual self?  In short, how does inspiration manifest through you?


JOYCE: I am often thinking about environmental or political issues as I work and since I am also I am a public radio addict, that is always running in the background of my thoughts.


Often, a series starts just because I am curious about something.  Often it is something I know nothing about.  Sometimes it starts with a sudden event such as almost stepping on a dead bird that collided with our building on its migration.  This resulted in my series, "The Trouble with Birds."  I didn't know that over 100,000 birds die during their migration annually. Collecting dead birds, just in the Chicago area, not exactly the Amazon for gorgeous exotic birds, I wanted to see these birds up close and honor their short difficult life.  Not being a birder, I knew little about birds.  Someone asked me why I used dead birds.  For one thing, they stay still!  I can focus on the intricate patterns and placement of feathers; things not observable when a bird is at some distance in a tree for example.  So on a black background, I made portraits of these exquisite creatures for everyone to see.  They rest alone in the black space of my photos, much like they did when flying during the migration oriented by the night stars, or for the night time feeders, hunting for their food.


I have spent some time living in other countries and so think of myself as a world citizen.  For my series, "Edible Botanicals," I was thinking about the preciousness of food. In this series, I have made portraits of edible botanicals depicted in a most classical way.  Always with a black background, the vibrancy of the vegetable glows like 17th century oil paintings. Usually, there is purposely something a bit odd about the composition.


In first world countries, we discard a lot of food both as individuals as well as from restaurants/grocery stores, etc.  While we still have poor people in the U.S. without enough food, it is an even bigger issue in developing countries. Food should not be taken for granted.  With natural disasters such as Katrina, etc. distribution and availability of food can be a matter of life or death as we are seeing now in the Philippines.  A shortage of food can happen anywhere, even in the U.S. and with climate change, the policy selection of only a few types of grains for example, a blight can wipe out the few grains without the natural diversity of many grains, some of which would be immune.  What happens then?  (Thank heavens for seed banks.) I think of the people here living here on our streets, begging for money, who have neither food nor shelter and this is in the U.S!


MICHAEL: Yes, homeless people are no less noble than anyone else.  They're human beings.


JOYCE: A new series I have started is called "Sanctions: The Carrot or the Stick."  It will be a metaphoric series on current political situations as we struggle with foreign policy now and at any point in history.  SO, to answer your question, I have ideas that rattle around in my head for awhile and then usually just tumble out. Then, I head out and shoot for the series after getting the idea.  I do heavily edit my ideas however.  Sometimes I know how it will manifest and other times I don't exactly know how or what I will show to elucidate what I am thinking.  I believe that what is most interesting about an artist's work is how they think.  What they produce is merely a byproduct of their thought process.  Recently someone said to me at a portfolio review, "I like the way you think!"  This was a huge compliment for me.


MICHAEL: I LOVE the way you think.  You know, most people who don't know much about art think that it's only about the finished product, like a traditional painting, but "process" really is most of the picture.  How do you explain this to people?


JOYCE: Well, first I need to find people who are really interested in the process.  I think as more people take the time to listen to this as a "back story" to the art, they get more intrigued and more interested in the work. Everyone has a story and this holds true for all art/artists as well.  We all need educating about things we don't understand including what goes on in people's minds. But I want to make clear that when I talk about process, I am not talking about which camera, which lens, filters, etc., but a way of thinking.


For those who have time to listen, I usually lead off with something amusing about the work.  Then I weave in things about the chosen subject matter that the person probably doesn't know.  If I am talking to someone like a biologist, naturalist or environmentalist who certainly knows their field better than I, then I question them endlessly learning as I go.


MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world/art market and how they function today?  To you feel connected with or alienated by them?


JOYCE: Well, it seems helpful to be dead in terms of auction prices.  Not an option for me yet!  The market always seems a bit fickle with fads coming and going.  On the other hand, I think there are excellent galleries doing a good job of promoting their stable of artists. They travel at great expense and trouble to the big international art fairs to introduce their artists to the international market.  Galleries do what they can to stay afloat, which is not easy in this economy.  I am affiliated with Catherine Edelman Gallery and am very pleased to have been selected by her.  Her eye is consistently astute and she chooses some of the very best photographers to represent.  I love the work that she carries.  Her openings are always packed with people. Her exhibitions expose and educate the public to the best in photography from living artists.


I also think that artists today, no matter what their field, have to spend way more time doing PR/Marketing their work.  From a time commitment, it seems there is only a small percentage of time to left to do the work. Personally, I work all the time. You probably do too.


MICHAEL: I do.  You know, so many people are suspicious of contemporary art and they question its relevance in their lives. What do you think about this?


JOYCE: Is it that they are unsure of their taste?  Is it that contemporary art in many cases has not passed the test of time regarding value? That certainly changes with the current market as artists fall out of favor or increase in value like Francis Bacon.  Too bad he is not here to know he is increasingly appreciated! $$$. Or rather, is it how to spend their money; art or electronics, for example? I'd say art loses out mostly in this context.  Are people afraid of having to explain their art to viewers when they might not understand it themselves?  Can one live without art in their lives, on their walls, etc?  I think only once have I been in a living space without art.  It was extremely sterile, empty and uncomfortable; did anyone really live there?


I have not really run into this (suspicion of contemporary art) but usually when people are unsure, it is about their own confidence.  Certainly lots of people don't know, or really care, if art is good or bad, nor original art from mass produced prints, but I would guess they would at least buy something from a big box store for their walls.  I can't really imagine anyone thinking art is not relevant to their lives, if only because "it matches the sofa/rug" or whatever. But then, how could I think otherwise? How to educate the masses? I wonder if early man had these discussions?  Bad bison cave paintings!  Surely some early artists were better than others.


MICHAEL: When people look at your work, what do you hope they will take away from it and from the experience of looking at it?


JOYCE: I am pretty distressed about the fact that people spend less and less time in nature.  Being outside for most city dwellers these days seems to be just to run errands or get to work and this includes me.  The density of highly-populated cities can literally make people mentally ill. How can any of us care about nature when we prefer to pave over so much of it to facilitate cars?  How will we care about preserving our environment?  How will we appreciate the quiet, the chance to be alone, unplugged, in nature?  Will we really "see" when we are outside.


I was stunned when a young relative of mine said he was not really "into nature!"  This is the next generation, but I know it is true!  So I hope people will really look at what I have photographed and be amazed.  Be wondrous. Care.  Protect.  Use natural areas, but keep them as pristine as possible. Support our park system as monies are cut back and learn to see, listen and enjoy. Make these areas of high importance and care about the open lands everywhere. Of course I can't change the world, much as I might like to, but I offer my observations.


MICHAEL: Joyce, you're elevating contemporary art to an even nobler cause. Thanks for chatting!


JOYCE: Thanks Michael.  Your questions really got me to think.  I appreciate you taking the time to interview me AND I enjoyed your questions!



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