USM Art Galleries Gorham and Portland

2012 - Jesseca Ferguson, Text Sphere/Books (constructed)


Text sphere/books (constructed)
Jesseca Ferguson
University of Southern Maine
Abromson Center, USM Portland Campus

Jesseca Ferguson (2012)     

While some might consider me a photographer, I am really more of an assembler of tableaux, which then come to exist as pinhole photographs of an interior landscape. I arrange books and artifacts that I photograph with pinhole cameras using only natural light. (Exposures often take several hours.) I contact print my large format negatives using hand-applied19th century methods and often collage my pinhole images onto antique book boards. The resulting “photo object” alludes to the passage of time, and to that private interior library which I believe serves as paradigm for collective and personal memory.

Books have long served as models, as raw material, and as sources for my pinhole images. The idea of the book and the secret world it opens out into is at the core of my work. When reading a book, the mind’s eye makes an image, an odd sort of paperless photograph.  In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes discussed “the melancholy of Photography” which, by representing that which has been, suggests that the subject is already dead, yet continues to “live” in the photograph. A book, like a photograph, can suggest the existence in the present, as we read the text, of that which is irretrievably in the past, or that is outside time, as with a fictional character that comes alive on the page every time we open the book and begin to read. 

USM started as Women’s Normal School (for educating teachers) in the 19th century. While VAIR in spring 2012, I worked in my own studio (a wonderfully sun-lit space in Academy Hall), and also offered a pinhole camera/handmade photography class to USM students.  In my piece for the USM teaching collection, I wanted to allude to USM’s earliest days as well as to my own experience at the school as an artist/educator. Searching at Yes Books in Portland, I found volumes to compose a ziggurat of books, a suitable subject for my pinhole camera. In my USM studio I made spheres of text (culled from old books) that I used as props in my pinhole photographs.

If we look closely at Text sphere/books (constructed), we can read a line cut from an old French book which relates to education: “Envoyez donc nos jeunes gens à cette école.”  (“So send our young people to this school.”)


                                                –Jessica Ferguson