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Der Greif X MPB: Behind the Image with JaLeel Marques Porcha


On February 12th Der Greif hosted an Instagram live with talent JaLeel Marques Porcha, recipient of the Guest Room Scholarship for our Guest Room curated by Nadine Isabelle Henrich and William Camargo, titled “Poetics of Counter-Archives”. Marques Porcha’s selected series “Notes On: Feeling”, concepts such as archives and history, community and universality, as well as (transgenerational) trauma and the notion of overcoming it.

This format is brought to you in partnership with MPB, the largest global platform to buy, sell and trade used photo and video kits.

Der Greif: Can you tell us what this scholarship means to you?

Receiving this scholarship is like a breath of fresh air. It guides me to go out, buy film, and start creating new photographs. Some of my images are experimental, and I need to use multiple sheets just for one particular picture that I have in mind. With the rising prices of film, especially for large format photography which I am passionate about, my practice unfortunately becomes quite costly. Sometimes, this budget constraint discourages me from taking photos.

This scholarship also signifies that there is a level of trust and encouragement given to me to continue creating meaningful photographs. I feel seen and embraced in the work that I'm producing as an emerging artist. There are many young artists out here producing engaging and challenging work, and too often we are dismissed because of our age. It is always wonderful to have people who believe in our visions from the early stages.

Der Greif: What kind of gear do you work with?

I cannot get enough of a 4x5 view camera. The large ground glass on the cameras and the dark cloth captivate me every time I see the world flipped and somehow mirrored onto the glass plate. I've studied the medium and would say I know the mechanics of what's happening between the lens and the ground glass, but it still feels like magic, and the silly little kid in me will always be into magic. My first love is a Chamonix. I was obsessed with it when I was at RISD. Dear Chamonix, if you're reading this, I love you and cannot wait to save up and own one of your cameras someday. If I don't have access to a 4x5, I'll default to medium format. I've never used 35mm; that's way too many images to make. Honestly, I couldn't imagine having to take 36 photos before being able to develop a roll. Sometimes I get impatient and take my 120 out of my camera early because I cannot contain myself. I never go past the camera, tripod, and strobe kit.

Der Greif: Is there any particular story behind the first camera you ever used?

The first camera I ever used was the Canon Rebel T5i. I attended the only arts high school in Paterson, NJ, where I studied creative writing. Being a fan of a good story, a nice narrative, I discovered my interest in photography from a YouTube video. I realized that photography, with its narrative qualities, reminded me of how I felt about writing at the time. So, I repeatedly dropped hints to my mother, begging her to get me a camera so that I could start combining images and narratives. She ended up surprising me with a little pocket Instax Polaroid camera, which I used up all the film that came with it in just a week. Once she realized that we couldn't keep buying film every time I ran out, she secretly purchased the Canon camera from QVC and surprised me with it on my 16th birthday.

Der Greif: What do you value the most in your gear today?

I look for equipment that I can commute with through cities and across states with ease. I'm terribly afraid of driving and don't have my license, so I need equipment that will survive NJ Transit, Amtrak, and the New York Subways. It needs to be light. I only weigh 130lbs, so having a camera, tripod, and maybe a strobe kit, if I dare, adds up. I value lightweight equipment that can be lifted with ease but still produces strong flashes and crisp images when necessary. If it can fit into a backpack, then say no more.

Der Greif: Where do you stand on used gear? Have you ever bought or sold gear with MPB?

I prefer used equipment. When the equipment is brand new, there's always a gentleness that overcomes me and I get afraid to do things I might naturally want to try. Sometimes the camera needs to be shoved into a bush or lodged in the middle of two things. Most of the images that I have were made using used equipment (tripods, shutter releases, and cameras I've never owned). Having some aspect of faulty equipment adds to the process of making some of my experimental images. One of my favorite photos, "Temper Tantrum," was made with the help of a funky Chamonix lens. The shutter wouldn't automatically close after making an exposure, so I would have to quickly jump up to the camera and close the lens myself. I recently inherited a Mamiya RZ67II from Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, and that's like my prized possession now. I'm so scared to use it and can't believe I own it, but it was my going away gift as I got ready to finish undergrad. It was the camera he made his first book with, so I plan to do the same with it, make a book, and thank him for it.

I haven't sold anything on MPB, but I did take a peek at their website to see exactly what could come out of the future and I liked what I saw. The last digital camera I dreamed about owning was the Fuji GFX, but I made sure to never have the dream after coming to terms with the price for the body alone. There may be a chance after all for me and a Fuji GFX to rekindle what we once had.

Der Greif: Can you tell us the story behind your winning Guest Room image, "Where It's Dark and Dirty"?

I created "Where It's Dark and Dirty" during a moment of questioning photography and what its statute of limitations was thought out to be. I was developing a new line of questions and theory for myself within image making. Photography was a medium that was hated for how accurately it could depict reality. Can the negative handle that much pressure if I tried to show it the reality of my black being? That is why I started engaging in making multiple exposures. To me, there is no way to surmise the nuance of temperamental emotions in one. I became interested in testing the limits of a large negative to see if photography had a limit, just like humans. The tool is flawed; the oldest and most reliable of equipment cannot handle the amount of truth that I bestow upon it to recreate. In "Where It's Dark and Dirty," I collapse 10-20 exposures into one negative to see how many moments of truth can fit on the sheet. I have a staring contest with the camera to assert my ability to challenge who is all-knowing and all-seeing by leaving the lens open until I inevitably lose by blinking first. The negative shows the real results. In the end, I wonder if it is the camera. These head-to-head ordeals leave the information on the film sheet to be self-destructive, as the camera and the film cannot stand the test of witnessing these displays of life. It produces errors; images self-destruct as they crumble into blank information.

Der Greif: Can you expand on the themes that your photography explores?

Some of the themes my work explores are confession, experimentation, discovery, destruction, abstraction, and minor art historical referencing. It started with understanding how confessional art operates within the spaces where the work is shown. Taking up space with an object or image is one thing, but I'm also interested in whether the artwork can project a sense of emotion or thought into the room that viewers feel when they stand next to it. I believe confessional work can be so overt that it holds its own weight in a room and doesn't require viewers to support it with their ideas. I want my work to ask for something different from the viewers who come across it. Usually, it's to engage in a staring contest to see who will win. That level of engagement alone speaks for itself because of how simple it can be to look at art now.

Abstraction is something new that I think I owe it to myself to explore within art making. I've been hesitant to fully embrace it because I enjoy representational art so much. My thinking is that since the human condition, blackness, and trauma are "hard to understand," people will get it when it's hard to see. Perhaps it's time for viewers to realize that they can't escape the need to work for a better appreciation in both the art world and our everyday world. It's a new inclination, and I'm currently being bold and unafraid to pursue it.

Der Greif: Who are some photographers that inspire your work?

There are so many people on my list that I look up to, but for this moment, I'll take it back to some of the OG's in my book and list of names. Anyone who knows me knows I am in love with Paul Sepuya. At this point in time, I hope he knows this too. His entire studio practice is amazing to see. The level of consistency and process of development really is my guide to envisioning what a 20+ year self-portraiture practice could end up being.

When I just started at RISD, I thought I wanted to do fashion and editorial photography (I think I still do). After one semester with Odette England and a lecture by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, my mind shattered, and I found myself playing 52-Pick Up with the pieces. They gave me such a thrill and excitement to understand new meanings of looking, and I wanted to see what it'd be like for me to create a new way of understanding the world around me by shining a light on the slippages of moments that probably go overlooked, unrecognized, or unappreciated. They're unraveling the scenes around them to show what may be hidden in the core of our typical interactions.

Der Greif: What are you working on right now?

I am working on so many things right now. As I mentioned earlier, I am in graduate school at Rutgers's Mason Gross School of Art, so the pressure is on. I am trying to simultaneously get into a space of playing with the possibilities of what my work could look like when I loosen up, but at the same time trying to shatter ceilings for myself as a young artist who wants to show the world their "infernal engine" that burns uncontrollably for art making.

I recently gave in to my desire to explore performances more than I normally do, with the hope of making them as complicated and multi-layered as my images. I want to try and bring people into my world of exploration through engaging writing sessions that lead to theatrical, fun, and maybe even surreal performances. I've been itching to create some disorienting experiences because I can't seem to recall a time when I've felt otherwise.

I took a break from self-portraits after graduating from RISD, but with this new scholarship, I'm definitely returning to the overall "Notes On: Feeling" project while also making other "Notes On:" series that unpack what it means to work through my personal understanding of gender, poverty, and sexuality. The title "Notes On:" is what makes this so exciting because it implies that 1.) there's writing on these topics that follows the colon and hints at my writing practice 2.) These ideas I'm writing on and exploring aren't projects that will come to an end. You can always add on to your notes, forever learning and researching. These aren't manifestos or declarations. Rather, they are diaristic entries from an angsty non-binary artist who wants to try and find the meaning behind their salient identities so they can share them with others who may be questioning them as well.

Der Greif: What is the biggest challenge you have faced in photography?

This is truly a hard question to answer, and I don't know where to begin or end. I want to say that everything about being an artist/photographer has been and still is challenging. I know I said that I had an "infernal engine" towards art making, but even engines as strong as those need tune-ups. What does a lifetime of art-making look like, and what does it take to get there? It's very easy to see myself working on something in my studio later in life, but to know what that work will look like, how I got to such a point, and the changes in life I endured to make it there are hard to conceptualize. I sometimes go to my studio and look at all the photos I made and critique whether they even belong in the present. Dealing with the former version of myself is one of the things that helped me get to the place of desire, understanding, and criticality that I want to have consistently and be able to share with others. I want to shape the way we look at ourselves and communicate with others by showing you all the many ways I process my existence, in hopes that it starts a dialogue between me and any viewer, or the viewer with themselves. I never thought it would be easy, but a lot of my mentors in life say that I love a challenge and don't back away from it. I ask myself, how can this image really flip a switch for someone?

Maybe my biggest challenge right now is confronting my evolving understanding of the medium alongside my growth as a person. My relationship to making is no longer what it used to be because of being in graduate school for one semester, and that complicates things. I used to just make out of a sense of urgency. I believed that the way the world was heading stacked up against my background, and I wouldn't be making art for that long. Goals like these are no mere feat to achieve, and a thought that I usually have once I leave an amazing studio session is, will anyone truly see what I do in these images? But they're just thoughts, and I kind of leave them there because I don't find them to be the most helpful.

Der Greif: How do you engage with new technologies in your work?

I don't think I engage with that many new technologies in my work. I hear that phrase and I think of all the money it would take to actually do this. All of my negatives are scanned, and I process them through Photoshop. Then, I print them using a Canon or Epson printer. I am also into darkroom printing, but there is something amazing about the curve feature. I can adjust my scanned negatives in minutes without having to go through rounds of paper, contrast settings, and flashing. It's just marvelous to be able to see every possibility for what your photograph can look like with a click of the mouse.

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