“Soaking the film destroys the emulsion of the film, it tears it, it distorts the colours sometimes and I’ve done the same substances multiple times and different effects have happened”
Jessica Bee is a Sydney creative who has taken something old and is turning it into something that moves beyond the realm of ordinary. She is a 35mm film based photographer/artist who goes by the pseudonym, Jessica Ashley Unknown.
‘I work a lot with film soaks, so experimenting with different liquids to soak my films in to create weird effects on the film, like lemon juice or coffee and multiple exposure techniques and film scanning techniques,’ Jessica said.
‘I have started experimenting with pickle juice, aftershave, red wine, I’ve even done something that many people will think is gross, like urine. Seeing the different types of effects that will happen to film when you soak them in these acidic substances.’
Jessica has always been creative, always attracted to creative outlets while at school. It has always been something of a hobby for her, doing it because of the love of it. Something many creatives can relate to, this pull to create, this need and want.
She bought herself a Mini Diana after seeing what her friend was doing. From there, her love for photography grew into what it is today. Finding the confidence to take her art from a hobby into something that she wants to do for a living, her passion.
‘I think it’s just been something that I have always done and always felt I needed to do,’ Jessica said. ‘It’s something that makes me feel like myself and relaxes me and something I enjoy doing.’
‘I identify with the term artist more than photographer, although I am using a camera and 35mm film as my medium, so I started calling myself a film photography artist.’
Jessica started experimenting with multiple exposures and came to the realisation that she was doing something amazing and wanted to share her work beyond her network of family, friends and Facebook. She started a blog and that is where Jessica Ashley Unknown was born.
‘I started blogging about what I was doing. I would take photos and post them and say what I soaked them in, what I shot them on, that kind of stuff,’ Jessica said. ‘Documenting it for myself and putting it out there, I realised how much I loved what I was doing and creating.’
‘I find that Jessica Ashley Unknown is really fitting, the unknown of the experiments that I do, not really knowing the effects on the films that I am shooting.’
As many creatives know, finding inspiration is an important part of your creative process. Jessica was inspired by a lot of live music that she attended, putting images to song lyrics and books.
Her lifestyle and her friends also inspire her and what she chooses to surround herself with. The environment is a very important aspect when it comes to creating and fostering creativity.
‘I’ve been thinking a lot about mindfulness and feelings like loneliness, happiness and how to interpret that in an image,’ Jessica said.
‘Now that I feel like I know what I am doing more, I have started exploring things that are important to me or things that I am going through.’
Jessica uses expired 35mm film and buys them from wherever she can find them. What she does is try to create effects that when people look at her work, they think it’s been done in Photoshop.
She uses plastic disposable cameras and a LCA Plus and a Holga 135, she also uses a Vintage Pentax Hi-Matic which is a vintage LSR and recently she has started using a Nikon Nikkormat.
‘I soak the film and then I have to let it dry and then shoot it. Some of my cameras can take multiple exposures in the camera. I’m not developing my films just yet, I am scanning my own films and playing around with scanning multiple negatives on top of one another to see what happens,’ Jessica said.
‘A lot of it comes down to uncertainty of it and especially with plastic cameras, there are situations where you’ll get a light leak and you don’t know when that has happened until you get your film back.’
Jessica experiments with different soaks to get different effects. What she has found is that no matter how many times she has soaked the film in the same substance, its effect is always different.
‘Soaking the film destroys the emulsion of the film, it tears it, it distorts the colours sometimes and I’ve done the same substances multiple times and different effects have happened,’ Jessica said.
‘You’ll notice different psychedelic swirls in one, coffee and lemon juice tend to look like that. Aftershave really made my photos look pink or green and some look blue, it changes the colour. I won’t know the effect until after the film is developed.’
Many creatives can relate to the idea of wanting to create something really beautiful. That’s what photography was for Jessica, experimenting with film. It was a little more random and not part of a large body of work or series. Learning through experience, it was trial and error.
‘It was more me seeing what I can do and trying to create something that was aesthetically pleasing,’ Jessica said. ‘That’s what I was doing for a long time and then I finally felt ready to start exploring other things and going out with more of a purpose.’
With experience comes confidence, Jessica made mistakes, but learning from them is an important part of developing as an artist. Not letting your mistakes discourage you from continuing your creative journey, just keep going, learning and growing.
‘My new series is called, ‘Step off’, was inspired by a song by Kasey Musgrave. The lyrics are just so straight forward, to the point, deals with negativity and having negative people in your life and the impact it has,’ Jessica said.
‘That is something that we all deal with and it was something that I really wanted to do, put a visual representation to it, so I went out and did it.’
Jessica believes in the importance of collaboration within the creative community, after having been involved in a few collaborations herself. Supporting each other and giving each other opportunities to get our work out there is key when funding is an issue.
‘I’ve done a few [collaborations], I’ve worked with Kate Armstrong, from project OKYO, the bio cup art series. That gave me the confidence to actually start submitting my work to different projects, exhibitions and other publications,’ Jessica said.
Jessica has collaborated with a personal trainer and a florist on a series of images. Collaboration is not just about connecting with people within your field but reaching out across all fields, it’s about thinking outside of the creative box, you might be surprised by the possibilities.
‘I am working on a collaboration with an illustrator called Dani Green, from Nineteenth Hole. I have taken photos and sent them to her and she is going to illustrate onto them,’ Jessica said.
Jessica blogged for a year and from that she created a website and through that she gained the confidence to start exhibiting her work. She had her first big solo exhibition last October, at Muse Studios in Surry Hills. She has also been involved in a series of group shows.
‘The exhibition was called ‘Unworldly’, I had pieces where you can tell it was here but it looked like it could be somewhere else. With the destruction of the film and multiple exposures it sort of looked like a day dream,’ Jessica said.
‘I exhibited with the Ludlites which is a local Lomography group, they use and shoot film as part of the Head On Photo Festival.’
Jessica has a busy creative year ahead of her. Her work was recently featured in Semi-Permanent for the creative conference and her work will be featured in other publications throughout the year. She will be focusing on submitting to blogs and publications and a few competitions.
‘I’ve been asked to get involved in an exhibition in America, that is based on film photographers whose process is critical either pre or post shooting,’ Jessica said.
‘I would like to exhibit internationally and just keep shooting. I have ideas for a few series that I want to do. I have an idea for a self-portrait series that I want to do. So I am going to try to get myself in front of my own lens.’
Jessica has been approached by a band out of the UK who asked her about her work and potentially use it as an album cover. The possibilities are endless when you are doing what you love.
‘Art for me is something that makes you stop and look at it for whatever reason, if it’s positive or negative, if it actually makes you stop and look and consider what the artist might be feeling, what you might be feeling when you look at it, that for me is the most important.’ Jessica said.