Jessica Okonski is a Toronto-based artist and photographer who describes art as being about: “peeling back all the little truths the universe has for us.” We met up for a quick photo shoot - which turned into an hour-long talk about life and the challenge of knowing if we’re doing it “right”. She also opened up about her relationship with photography and its role in her own mental health journey.
// Why did you initially start taking photographs? "I started taking photos while at York University - I needed to fit a class into my schedule to get my credits in and I was already taking all the painting classes I could fit in, so I took an Intro to Black and White Photography class. And it was like a door opened! It was just the best way to tell a story for me. I was always painting and drawing and writing to try and express all these ideas that were coming to me and the missing piece was photography."
// Where do you continue to draw your inspiration from? "Everything is a source of inspiration! I’m a telescope, haha - I'm always on the lookout. Watching people and their interactions is the best. Observing gestures people use, or the colours they're wearing, how they say certain things. I zoom in on all these seemingly small parts of a whole and file it away. Kind of a catalogue of things to mine later on when I am journaling.
When I write about these things they work like little GIFs in my head, like say, a girl in a yellow summer dress and the wind ripples the hem. I’m not writing about the dress or the girl, but of what that little play by play is making me feel and the questions that come up about life and people and joy and pain that it’s bringing up. A whole universe is in the little hem ripple."
// What is the role that art and photography plays in your life? How does it impact or reflect you as a person? Art and photography are my tether. I honestly don’t know how I would interact with the world if I wasn’t creating!
// Do you think you are “worthy”
of creating art?
Sometimes. Sometimes not. Depression is a big thing, so sometimes it’s hard to feel worthy of putting your ideas out there. You have a looming cloud that comes in and makes you question a lot of stuff.
// What is, in your opinion, the role that art/photography plays in society at large? Art, for me, is about peeling back all the little truths the universe has for us. Whether it’s playing with abstract forms and colours; to making social and political comments on the world around us - art has a way of exposing a truth about that thing. Sometimes we don’t see the vast potential around us because we keep looking in the wrong direction - I think art and photographs really hone you in on what we need to be looking at as a society.
// Let’s talk about art/expression and mental health specifically – do these things correlate in your world? If so, how? Yes. Right after Life on the Line was actually when, for the first time, I sought help in getting my mind together and tried to find a healthier way to process what I was feeling other than trying to hurt myself in some way.
// What do you hope people get from looking at your photos? What
feelings do you hope to convey?
Whimsy and quiet peace. With Life on the Line, I wanted people to feel not alone in stillness. Addiction and mental health is so often about covering it up; of not looking at it head on. So I wanted people to feel that isolation, and to not feel alone in that isolation.
// Explain your relationship with photography in 10 words or less.
CONNECT WITH JESSICA OKONSKI
We are working with Jessica for a 2020 project called Weathered. Stay tuned.
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+ Photograph courtesy of Jessica Okonski; artwork exhibited in Life on the Line Campaign + Photograph taken by Leah Ruehlicke of Twentytwenty Arts + Photograph courtesy of Jessica Okonski
+ Photograph courtesy of Twentytwenty Arts