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(Image: Jennifer Loomis)
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Artist of the Week: Jennifer Loomis

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at hello@seattlerefined.com. And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? What mediums do you work with?
Jennifer Loomis: I have been a creator most of my life. I started with textiles, moved to painting, and then in the 90s, I started photography and never looked back. I was one of the first in my family to go to college and get a graduate degree. With that came an expectation that I would become a professional banker or lawyer, becoming an artist was frowned upon. I tried to do what my parents wanted, but ultimately it didn't work. I kept drifting back to creating art. I attended graduate school for photojournalism, and it seemed a way of satisfying my parents and myself. I could do art using the camera and get a real job as a photojournalist being creative — telling visual stories. That lasted about ten years, and then I left that profession to pursue my passion, photographing nudes of women and pregnant women.

The pregnant female form is so beautiful and mysterious, and no two bodies are alike. Not only do women go through a physical transformation, but they also go through a psychological transformation as they transform into mothers. This was a great challenge to me as an artist to be able to capture both. At the time I began photographing pregnant women in 1994, there were few images of pregnant women in society, including advertising, celebrity photos and television. I took it upon myself to change that and passionately pursued this as a creative outlet. It was the right time, and my work resonated internationally with private commissions and galleries. It also attracted the media because pregnancy photography was so novel.

As I photographed more and more women, the more I started to hear them say, my work and the experience made them feel so beautiful. It was so rewarding to be creating art that was also a therapeutic experience for my subject. Fast forward almost 30 years, and I have photographed more than 4,000 women and am still going strong. I am grateful to have a diverse body of work that keeps growing. Photographing pregnant women has had a lasting impact on me as I realized that my work can extend beyond just allowing me to express my creative voice, but also empower pregnant women in the process, and reveal to society this mysterious and beautiful shape.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
My work is a hybrid of commissioned portraits and artistic work. The majority of my income comes from clients hiring me to make them look and feel good in their pregnant body, but the majority support both my artistic vision and mission and are willing to also be my models as I express my artistic vision and voice. My process developed over the last 20 years stems from my photojournalism roots and training, and my passion for art history and photography. The key to creating images that reveal strength and vulnerability is a subject giving access to their inner world. This is earned by trust — gaining access and trust is my superpower and has honestly saved my life several times, like during intense riots I covered in East Africa in the late 90s.

First, I meet with my subjects before I actually photograph them. Recently with COVID-19, this is done on a video chat, but prior to this, we would meet in person. I call it my discovery process, and this process helps me envision the actual image that this person and I can create together. As I meet someone and learn about their story, images start to flood my mind's eye. I start to see things and get ideas that I want to create in our photography session.

When in the studio, we begin by discussing my lighting techniques and posing. We incorporate significant items to them or come up with a theme of expression. The images are then discussed with them as we make them so that they can also have artistic input and offer direction as well. The final step is for them to see the proofs, and we together decide on a piece for them, and if different, a piece for me. The majority of my work is done in-camera, and I do not use any Lightroom presets or filters. The final piece is printed in a darkroom on gelatin silver fiber paper in a traditional photographic print process that dates back to the 1800s and makes a truly archival black and white print.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from?
Inspiration for my photography comes not only from two-dimensional artists like the painters, Robert Mapplethorpe, Alice Neel, Francis Bacon, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and photographers, Cartier Bresson, Ruth Bernhard, Rineke Dijkstra, Dorothea Lange but also from sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Japanese performance artists H-Art Chaos.

Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
My area of focus for the past 25 years has been the pregnant female form. Called the pioneer of pregnancy photography, I truly believe the pregnant woman is a sacred being, and her body is a sacred shape.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
There are two pieces that really mean a lot to me. One is Sacred Mother, she is standing proudly wearing a headdress, and it was this image that launched my series by the same name by where I started to examine the strength that women have to have and find to become mothers. The second is the nude torso, which is an image I have been capturing ever since I started working twenty years ago, and is inspired by Robert Mapplethorpe's photo of Lisa but of a pregnant woman. Every time I create this image, it reminds me how the female body is so magical, strong and beautiful.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
I grew up feeling like I never fit in. I have a dark complexion and dark features and grew up as a child in very caucasian Connecticut. My dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin always set me apart from those around me. The first memory I have of being called out for looking different was when I was seven. I was riding the bumper cars at an amusement park. I got stuck, and an older boy yelled, "get out of the way you dirty Mexican!" I was so startled. I had no idea what he was doing. He kept chasing and bumping me and yelling at me. I couldn't get out of his way, and I couldn't get away from him. I cried and cried and never went on that ride again.

My entire life, people have asked me where I was from, and they still do to this day. I have been followed in stores, with mean stares from shopkeepers. When I arrive early to an appointment and park my car on the street, I have had strangers come out of their house and walk up to me and ask me what I am doing there. I didn't belong. I have kept that feeling of not belonging my entire life, but there is a silver lining. That life experience taught me how to adapt and belong anywhere — how to hide in plain sight. This experience taught me compassion and empathy for those who don't fit it. It has also taught me to be able to get along with many different people and cultures easily. This ability has helped me photograph in many situations, including keeping me safe on dangerous assignments when I was a photojournalist.

Another influential experience is as a young girl; I had an eating disorder. I was haunted by the feeling that I wasn't beautiful or worthy unless I was a certain weight and physique. This memory has stayed with me and has become embedded in my work as I look for the beauty in front of me, not only the physical beauty but also the beauty within the woman I am photographing. I can always find her beauty. In addition, some pregnant women do struggle with their new bodies, and I work with them to see their body as beautiful using my photography as a mirror for them to heal.

The last experience that has affected my work profoundly was becoming a mother at 46 after being told I would never become one. Being told I wouldn't be able to have a child when I was at the height of my career as an artist was a crushing blow. I quit my work, capturing pregnant women for about three years as I tried to heal. I walked across Spain and photographed the entire thing with an iPhone app that made each photo look like I was crying.

Then a client offered me an embryo. I didn't end up using that embryo, but it opened the door for me to consider other ways to be pregnant. Being pregnant and having my son has been the most joyful and challenging experience of my life. I treasure every moment and have a different perspective now as I do commissioned portraits of private clients with their children. I treasure the little things. I notice the details of a relationship or a subtle hand that caresses a mother's head.

If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
I publish a lot of my work on Instagram @jenniferloomisphoto and on my websites, www.jenniferloomis.com and photojournalism work at www.loomismedia.com.

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
During COVID-19, my photo studio has been closed, so I am excited to reopen and start creating images again. I am also excited to bring my pregnant women outside to see what we can create outside that is different and evocative. I do have another project coming up. Recently I was selected by The Columbia City Hillman Arts Commission to be a part of the Essentially Seattle project to document the impact of COVID-19 on our neighborhood. I am excited to combine my fine artwork, my love of photojournalism and portraiture to create some compelling and thoughtful images of our essential neighbors during this really intense time in our history.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
I drink a beautiful and delicious handmade latte every morning prepared at home by my sweet partner, who is a coffee fanatic. Making me this coffee every morning is his daily act of love.

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