Interview / Jessica Hans


The photographs of ceramic artist Jessica Hans capture a subtle life in plants and flowers, a breathing life caught in a still moment. For me, Hans’ work embodies an elegance and a simple spirituality that naturally accompanies the organic shape. Two photographic series in particular, aptly named Terra and Flora explore the natural world in two dimensions: one through gaping roadtrip-landscape and the other through up-close shots of mostly houseplants. Also, her newest endeavor in sculpture, New Ceramic Frontier is just as exciting. Hans is talented and intelligent and makes work that is as conceptually thrilling as it is beautiful. Please welcome Jessica Hans as the first interview of the year!


I understand you work in ceramics as well and have a job at an engineering facility? How does working professionally with ceramics influence your work as an artist, both in ceramics and photography?


That’s true; I’m currently at Technology Assessment & Transfer, Inc., a ceramic engineering facility based about thirty minutes outside of Baltimore, MD. The company specializes in a lot of things but I work with a group that is responsible for the research and development of small, precision parts made via ceramic stereolithography. I came into an internship position there because of a background in ceramic arts and an interest in raw materials. I’ve always been intrigued by science and engineering but it had never gone much further than reading Scientific Americanevery month or taking various Materials Labs related to glazing and clay bodies in college. it has required me to learn a completely new vocabulary and refine my finesse in the lab.
Working with ceramics on an engineering level has been challenging but has given me a greater appreciation for the material on its molecular level and its applications in industry, specifically aerospace.As far as photography goes, I’ve shot a series of images at work that act as inspiration and reference points but I don’t really see myself using them for anything in the near future. I’m interested in the machinery that we use in the lab and the shop from its industrial perspective because it is so foreign to me. We have a 30-ton hot press at our facility that is used for the heating and pressing of tiny discs of ceramic powder to be analysed and later turned into spinel – a very dense, transparent ceramic that is used often as bullet-proof window material. The press is massive; it’s such an incredible, ominous piece of machinery and feat of engineering to me. I thought often about Mårten Lange’s Machina when I first started working there.

On that note, how do your two chosen mediums influence each other?
I go back and forth between photography and other mediums. Making photographs always seems to act as a sort of field research. Previously, I did a lot of work with textiles and weaving. Photography was a necessary medium for documenting specific colorways and shapes in nature. I’m interested in plants and landscapes so I’d shoot a lot of that and take the color and graphic information and incorporate that into printed fabric or weavings. A lot of the images that I’m making now focus on color but also surface texture and geology because I can directly bring those elements into my sculptures.


How or why are you driven to document and create organic forms?
I’m still coming to terms with my reasoning behind this – I haven’t completely figured it out, but I know that I love being outside in nature. I’m interested in how complex and different in form plants are to people. I like thinking about the way that things grow; specifically different species of plants, but also types of corals and other strange marine animals. I try to replicate these forms in my work because I like to think that through replication I will understand these things a little bit better. I probably won’t ever understand completely, but it’s a fun exercise.

Your series Flora comes across as a documentation series, almost like a botanist’s journal. How did this series develop and what inspired you?
It’s interesting that you use the word “journal”. I had not considered that up until this point but I think it definitely applies. I guess it all started when I began my house plant collection a number of years ago. I began to pay more attention to the house plants that other people in my neighborhood would put in their windows. I was living in Philadelphia at the time and would walk everywhere and just take pictures of the cool and interesting house plant arrangements or the succulent gardens on people’s front stoops. It expanded from there once I started visiting various plant conservatories and arboretums, but it’s remained of the same principle concept of plants in their many different environments.

Similarly, your series Terra describes an affinitive yet exploring relationship between the earth and human. Where is this series shot and why did you call it Terra?
The images were shot in a lot of different locations in the US. There are some from Jemez Springs, New Mexico; Marin County and the Pacific Coast Highway in California; Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia; and also the Chesapeake Bay here in Maryland. The title Terra, latin for Earth, comes from the idea of the interconnectedness of all things terrestrial – while the images were shot in vastly different locations, they’re all essentially from the same mass. It’s kind of an attempt to capture this mass and hold it in its entirety via photograph. My little book Felsgarten talks about the same concept.

Do you visualize a photograph before you take it or do you find you discover images as you go?
I almost always just discover images as I go. In life in general I have a difficult time planning for things so I kind of just let things unfold as they will and then document the outcome.

What format do you work in and why? Also, what kind of equipment/camera do you use and what’s your favorite film (brand or format/speed)?
In photo I shoot predominately with a Canon AE-1 and either Fuji Reala 100 or Kodak Portra 400. I play around sometimes with expired slide film like Fuji Astia 100 because of the really crazy color effects.

I switch around my types of clay quite often – I’ll work with porcelain for a while, then switch over to earthenware, then work with stoneware for a bit. Each different clay body offers different results. I like taking each materials to its limit to see what it’s capable of.

Jessica Hans is a photographer and ceramic artist based out of Baltimore, Maryland.

Check out her latest project New Ceramic Frontier.