Jo Ann Callis

What is it like to be a female photographer working in California?

The domestic realm was where I lived in every way, literally and psychologically. Within those confines, there are feelings other than comfort. There are things that are disquieting, because it’s where we retreat and it’s full of all kinds of emotions. So I used everyday objects, but put them in new contexts as a way of talking about a lot of other issues.

- Jo Ann Callis
Jo Ann Callis, Man in Tie, 1976 Courtesy of ROSEGALLERY

Jo Ann Callis is a pioneer in photography. She began to use a camera in 1973 and was encouraged to continue during her studies at UCLA where in 1977 she completed her MFA in Photography. Not only talented, she is a refreshingly humble artist who is grateful for her long career. Labels such as fabricated, constructed, sexual and surrealist have been used to describe the result of her thoughtfully designed layouts and memorable photographs.

There is no question that there is an underlying sexuality to her imagery, and yes, it is full of mystery and intrigue of her own design. By introducing everyday objects in unusual contexts, Jo Ann causes us to question the purpose and identity of both the people and objects in her photos. Her use of light and shadow paired with her unique blend of images moves us to think and feel in unexpected ways. These combinations became her signature style and gave way to her enduring success as an artist. As a great artist, she moves us to question the accepted social norms of the time.

To discuss Jo Ann Callis’s underlying concepts I defer to the artist herself. In an interview with Siobhan Bohnacker of The New Yorker, Jo Ann explains that while the word domesticity is often used to describe her work she finds the label misleading. She states that the images are about the routine of life and the actions we do every day. The photos are set in a home because she is making a statement about how grateful she is to have one and that she considers it to be the backbone in her life. Jo Ann explains how a home is the stage for so many crucial things that occur in one’s lifetime and so it’s a place of comfort and discomfort. She wanted to focus on the dichotomy between the two states, and how apparent they are in everything.

CMATO is thrilled to have Jo Ann Callis’s work here to facilitate our dialogue on identity as well as our ongoing mission to reignite empathy in the hearts and minds of our viewers. The Early Color Series in particular is an ideal stage to present these issues. For example: Is Grabbing Ankles an aggressive image or submissive, or perhaps sexual? It is your personal experiences that will define what you see, and whether or not you empathize with its humanness.

I think you will find that Jo Ann Callis’s images will have a lasting impact in your memory. Their ability to reveal inner truths by mere suggestion is moving and powerful. The humaneness of the narrative and characters they evoke in my imagination, have caused them to feel like old friends. I feel certain I will miss them when they are gone.

Lynn Farrand is the Senior Curator at California Museum Of Art Thousand Oaks and Co-Curator of Exposed: The Female Lens in a Post-Identity Era?  She is a sculptor and visual artist working in bronze and uncommon materials. Lynn has exhibited domestically and internationally in Asia and Europe and her work is owned by collectors locally and abroad.  


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