In one of Janessa Johnsrude's photos, a mother and daughter sit perched in an open window, smiling at one another, a big, milky-eyed dog between them. Their tableau, framed by the window of the house, is overlaid with the branches of an apple tree bright with pink blossoms and a set of copper wind chimes shine at their right. It's an idyllic scene full of affection. So much so that you could forget they are sheltering in place during a pandemic.
The portrait of LinZi, her mother Laurel and their dog Bender is part of the Sheltering in Places series Johnsrude is working on, capturing images of her friends, neighbors and friendly strangers in her Blue Lake neighborhood — all from a distance as they hunker down in their homes.
Originally from Saskatchewan, Canada, Johnsrude came to Humboldt County nine years ago as a student of Dell'Arte International, where she now serves as a faculty member, resident artist, director of the Prison Arts Program and associate director of the school's Bali program. More accustomed to the ephemeral arts of the theater, photography was something she mostly did while traveling before COVID-19. "It's not my regular medium but it's what I can use at the moment to express what I'm feeling. ... It's the medium that I felt drawn to in this moment."
- Janessa Johnsrude's
- "I saw this house from across the street where I was taking another portrait and asked about it. They said it was a rental and people had just moved in. The house intrigued me — it has character. Ezekiel and his mother, J, came onto their porch to read a book and I met them from far back on the street. I can't imagine just moving into a new place and then having to stay in. There is so much unknown surrounding the unknown in that."
That curiosity led her to ask a few friends if she could take their pictures from outside. More friends shared the images on social media and Johnsrude set up a website, www.shelteringinplaces.com. "Now I'm getting calls from people I've never met before," says Johnsrude, adding that she's been invited to the Blue Lake Rancheria for a photo. She'll get a message through the website or Instagram, then set up an appointment to stand outside and shoot photos. "I stand very, very far away."
In one photo, a cheerful family waves from windows on the second floor. In another, a woman gazes through her glass patio door in a horned headpiece decorated with feathers and cowrie beads. As each subject, framed by a window or a door, looks into the camera or at a family member, there is a balance of intimacy and separation, isolation and connection. "I can't even see in their spaces," says Johnsrude, who is "kind of intrigued by the barriers, the way the window keeps you away from your subject."
- Janessa Johnsrude's
- "I know Veena as her teacher and I actually interviewed her after this photo on the phone. She is from Sri Lanka where her family lives. We are both very far apart from our families right now and I found her insight incredibly inspiring — she is a Buddhist and her belief and spirit are a guiding light. This image moves me because I see both gentle calmness and fear in her. She is forced into waiting."
"I think that, maybe, at this point, people can look at the images and relate. It's an act of love to take someone's picture," she says, explaining that it's a way of acknowledging their existence. "But at the same time, you're taking a picture of someone who's trapped."
That's a familiar theme for Johnsrude, too. "I think that comes from my time working with people who are incarcerated and who aren't really seen ... I'm inspired by the power of seeing somebody else and what it does to be seen."
Johnsrude didn't originally set out with a goal for the project but now she muses over collecting 100 photos. Maybe 200. "It could turn into an interesting archive down the road," she says.
- Janessa Johnsrude's
- "Gina is a friend and an incredible artist whose perspective I continually take refuge in and inspiration from. She actually came up with the name 'Sheltering in Places.' This is a picture of her outside of her studio. Many artists crave isolation to create but now we are isolating in the face of a pandemic — how is this going to change the landscape for artists? The arts are now facing unprecedented impact."
"If the sheltering keeps happening in waves," Johnsrude says, "we're going to have to figure out ways to connect with each other that feel real."