Spotlight: Felipe Angel Jasso Perches
Felipe Jasso is a recent graduate from the Alberta University of the Arts (previously Alberta College of Art + Design). His photography combines magic surrealism with traditional imagery from his Mexican background and the landscapes of Alberta.
PIB: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Felipe Jasso: I am from Mexico. I've been here in Calgary for 20 years. I started painting a little bit by myself and then I decided to go to ACAD, which is now the Alberta University of the Arts. I just finished my degree in design with a major in photography. I've been doing a lot of gallery space work. I've been mixing in with a little bit of commercial work. One of the things that I like about Calgary is the fact that it's close to Banff and Canmore and the mountains. So, I really love going there, doing some hiking and from there I kind of got the idea of mixing some of my photography with the landscape of Alberta.
PIB: Why did you want to pursue photography?
FJ: I've always loved photography in general, just taking photos with a film camera. When I was in Mexico, the only problem with film photography was that you needed to know what you were shooting because you cannot see it on the screen. In fact, it was from painting that I went into photography. One of the things that I found with painting, and then started to explore more with photography, is this idea that with tools like Photoshop, you can process your photos and start to make them look like a painting. A lot of people ask me if my photos are a painting or photography. That's why I also use a lot of traditional structure — the light, the symmetry and all those things.
PIB: One of the aspects that really struck me with your imagery is the use of stark contrast and lighting — the chiaroscuro.
FJ: That's a new thing I'm doing. I really love the contrast, the strong shadows and the light and that comes from Rembrandt and artists of that period. But then with a portrait that I've been doing, which is more like the classic Greek ideas, bringing those ideas back and embracing a lot of the classic art. In the work that I'm doing, I'm bringing back the traditional nudes. For obvious reasons, nude photography is being portrayed as something a little bit aggressive or not appealing. I guess it comes from pornography and conservative ideas. Nude photography, especially the male nude photography, started to receive a negative connotation.
PIB: You bring a number of different intersecting identities to your art as a queer man, as an immigrant to Canada, and as an artist. How would you find those identities impact your work?
FJ: Well, I guess this is everything. What I do is basically what I feel, what I think. I know I've been here for a long time, but I still feel like I don't belong to here, but I don't belong to Mexico either anymore. So that's a struggle sometimes. What I do is try to see where I belong, and maybe I will never be there anymore, but I don't see it as something bad. It is just my journey. Also, the fact that I have to face in Mexico, that culture is very traditional. That's probably part of why every time I go back, I know that I cannot be there in that traditional environment anymore.
I'm a little bit of here and there, and I bring it to my work. So it's kind of mixing the strong iconography of Mexico, which I decided to do a lot with the Day of the Dead idea, and then bringing it to the Canadian landscape, which is something that you don't see in Mexico. We don't get this cold weather; it's a world that I'm trying to mix together in my work.
PIB: With this work you've submitted, I get a sense of isolation for all of the figures that are in those wider landscapes of Alberta, but there are typically other objects present. How do you decide to superimpose something over the photography using Photoshop?
FJ: I guess it goes more with the challenges of basically bringing a model to a specific location. Working in cold weather, when it's like minus 20, sometimes you cannot go to the spot that you want to shoot with a model. When I'm working with models, a lot of the times they have makeup, they have a specific hairstyle, and the wind, and all those things don't help me. So, although I plan the shoot, sometimes I bring the models and sometimes because of weather issues I have to finish the work in studio or bring the model to a different location with similar lighting. The work that I submitted in this case, they're all shot in the place. I have a group of friends who don't mind going out in cold weather wearing a summer dress. So, I'm lucky. But a lot of the times I do have to bring in Photoshop and just work on it.
In Mexico, we grew up with books full of — I guess it's the beginnings of surrealism, the magic realism. Those books teach you about life, but they used to create a lot of magical creatures — kind of man and animal, and a mix of whatever. I also like the idea of people not knowing or not even thinking about sex, when it comes to whether it’s a male or a female. So, a lot of the times, that's why I cover faces in the photography. Just so people don't think about gender in general.
PIB: Do you prefer shooting in studio or on location?
FJ: I love both. The studio photography just gives me a lot of control in everything I do, but it limits the background. You have to be very deliberate about what you want in the frame. When I go to a location there is stuff that is just there in trees or clouds, that I have no control over. The bad side about that is lighting, especially here in Calgary, it changes in an hour and 30 minutes, in 10 minutes, just because a cloud decided to show up. But I love both. One thing I love, if you go to the mountains when it's just recently snowed, you get a lot of flat scenery, when all the lakes have just caught the snow. And I love that. To me, that is where I'm going to place my models. So that's one of the things I really love about shooting here.
PIB: What is your opinion of the status of the arts in Calgary?
FJ: I feel like it's tough — Calgary is still growing up when it comes to art. And, and not many people — especially with art photography — see photography as art. That's a little bit of a challenge, but it's changing and changing a lot. Ten years ago, Calgary didn't have the same amount of gallery spaces for us, for emerging artists. Not even close. Now it's like they're opening every year. The new Contemporary Gallery is opening soon. It's changing. So, I think people like me can do well, but you just need to learn how to knock on doors and not get tired.
PIB: In your opinion, what role does art play in the queer community as whole?
FJ: I feel like it's 95% of the queer community, but I feel like art is like that flavour that you gave — I'm just going to use an analogy I heard at my graduation — it's just the flavour you give to the cookie. You can eat a cookie and it can be perfectly made, but if you don't put the sweetness, it just won't be a good cookie. It’s what art does to any community. And, when it comes to the queer community, I think we're naturally expressive; sometimes we don't see it as art, but even drag, to me, that's a very high fashion art height to me. I think we just have that sensitivity. Even the way a lot of people in the gay community like to dress, to rearrange their furniture, we just have that sensitivity. I think we don't get shy just because we went through a different process in discovering our sexuality; we aren't shy about being artsy or being expressive. I see that a lot in Pride, how we are a little bit ahead of what society will be. Even with trends in fashion or art that are going on, we are usually leading and then the rest of the society follows. We're important.