+ Jo Ann Walters
Amy Stein, Interstate 84, 2008, digital C-print, 16 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist and Clamp Art.
Jo Ann Walters, Pregnant Girl with Keys, 2001, digital C-print, 20 x 24 in.
Q+A: Amy Stein
How has the artist you chose influenced or inspired you?
And in turn how have you influenced those around you?
How has the audience, if at all, been influential?
I met Jo Ann Walters in 2002 at the Maine Photo Workshops. I was assigned as her assistant for a one week workshop she
was teaching called Memory and Dream. All that summer I had
plodded along assisting various teachers; some landscape photographers, some documentary photographers, some photojournalists, learning a few things here and there. But when Jo Ann arrived, it was clear that her class was going to
be something different. Her approach to teaching was inspired and inspiring. Over the course of the week I learned how to
bring authenticity and soul into a class-situation. Jo Ann shared
personal stories, readings, poems and her energy and intelligence with the class. In that week I basically learned how to be a teacher. I've been in the classroom with many other fine instructors, both as peers and as an assistant, but none have influenced my teaching more than Jo Ann.
I now teach at the School of Visual Arts, Parsons, the ICP and, funnily enough for Jo Ann herself, at SUNY Purchase, where she is the chair of the photography department.
In addition to her teaching I'm also a huge admirer of Jo Ann's photographic work. She was an early influential color photographer in the '70s and '80s. Her work has, for me, a certain sort of melancholic gravitas and an integrity that is rare in contemporary photography.
As I build my career, as an artist and as a teacher, I look to female mentors like Jo Ann as guides in navigating the long and complex journey of being an artist and educator
in New York today.
What does feminism mean to you? Does it influence your
practice or the way you position your work?
figures have said we live in a post-gender condition,
would you agree?
For me, feminism is personal. It's functioning as a female artist in the most true and responsible way I know how and supporting the work and careers of other female artists. In a sense I consider myself a feminist, because I am pro-women and because I am a woman. But my work is not preoccupied with issues related to feminism. Generally I try to be the strongest and truest artist I can be, without concern for gender.
But of course, gender is a constant factor in making work, building a career, and positioning one's work in the art world.
I'd like to think we live in a post-gender world, but my experience does not support that. I can only speak to the art world, but within this context I feel that gender plays overt and more subtle roles in defining and limiting the careers of women. Because I am aware of this, it is something I strive to reverse and mediate for myself and for the other, younger females artists I encounter.