“I feel there is something fundamentally pure and child-like about creative work”

Often we encounter strange people during our lives. People we do not understand, people we admire, people we are afraid of, people we are intrigued of. Jesse belongs to the last category. I met him one year ago when working at the same university. He is a quiet guy, but easy going and funny. He is a smart and methodical scientist. However, I had the impression that he was hiding something. He was hiding another side of himself. Another aspect of his character and his personality. I have been long thinking that he was not telling the whole story. He was also something else, something he was not directly showing and I was quite intrigued by this mystery. Jesse is Finnish, he then moved to Scotland and afterwards to Austria. He has been working for a long time as a microbiologist and environmental scientist. After finishing his PhD at the University of Sheffield, he has been working at the Universities of Edinburgh and Vienna, and has been collaborating with NASA as well. Quite an admirable career, I would say!

One day his other side emerged. I do not remember how, but I ended up on his art website and I started going through some breathtaking photographs of landscapes. This is what there was behind the smart and methodical scientist I met at work. I was quite impressed by the beauty of the pictures, most of them were like a dark and melancholic view that calmed me down and made me stare at my laptop for minutes with the feeling of being immersed in the foggy light of a cold dream. I always thought about scientists as rational, cold calculators. You need to be analytical to try to get as much as you can close to the reality of what you are studying. Do emotions and sensitivity have a place in this kind of person? Well, in Jesse they do!

Q: Hi Jesse, thanks very much for accepting to answer a few questions for us. First of all, you are Finnish but your name sounds quite English. How come?

Thanks for the chat! Actually I’m half-Finnish – while I was born there, my father is from Canada. However, I don’t attach importance to my nationality or background.

Through my art, I hope to express something that is more about inner than outer realities, regardless of the topic and how concrete it may seem on the surface. While a photo may come from a particular location or show a particular person, and so on, ultimately I’m more interested in what lies ‘beyond’ the subject. Bringing this sensation of something beyond – what you could call an underlying essence – to the surface is really what I try to achieve. I strongly believe that essence is something that connects us all as living beings, despite the country we come from or the language we might speak.

Q: When did you start to be interested in photography and how did it happen?

My interest in photos started in 2003, when I got my first camera. It’s hard to say what exactly drew me towards this topic to begin with, although I was introduced to it at an early age because my grandpa was a keen photographer. My interest in creative topics goes back as long as I can remember and is not limited to photos – it also includes music and writing, and other forms of art. There’s a strong creative current in science too, which is one of the reasons that have kept me working as a researcher for many years.

One thing that has developed together with my interest in photography is my enjoyment of nature and the outdoors. These two pursuits have gone hand in hand for a long time now, which explains why most of my work so far has involved landscapes and other related subjects.

Q: Do you have any artist you particularly like?

There’s a huge number of artists whose work has affected me as a person. Some of these influences probably show very little in the work I do, but others are more evident. One obvious connection that has contributed to my development as an artist is my long-lasting collaboration with the German electronic music portal ‘el culto’ (www.el-culto.com). Much of the music that has been released by el culto can be classified as ambient. This type of music often conjures images of landscapes in my mind, some familiar and others more alien.

Aside from musical projects, I admire any artist who has a certain visionary aspect to their work. For example, Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are like this. They have this absolutely breathtaking and timeless quality to them, and always transport me to another world. I also love all the animations by Studio Ghibli!

Q: A scientist and a photographer/artist, the rational and emotional together, can these two aspects coexist?

I don’t believe in the concept that science and art are mutually exclusive or belong to different worlds of experience. There are lots of wonderful, warm and emotionally sensitive people who I’ve met through making a living as a scientist. Likewise, I’ve encountered many people with a life-long interest in art who are also logically-minded. The truth is that the mind and the heart are much more connected than this simple division tends to imply! We’re all complex creatures who have the capacity to experience reality in many incredible ways. I would also say that both intuition and reason have their place in helping us form an appreciation of what this ‘reality’ might involve.

Recently, I have been reading about psychological theory and this can offer some useful insights into how the psyche is structured. One view is that the personality is based on coexisting ego states. For example, behaviours that are rooted in childhood experience are said to belong to the ‘child’ ego state, whereas thoughts that are a direct reaction to current events belong to the ‘adult’ state. While helpful for understanding the makeup of one’s mind in general, I think that being aware of these states can help us form a more complete understanding of the creative process (and how different ways of perception contribute to it).

Q: How much of one side influences the other?

My response to this question is quite similar to the one above – both sides are involved and naturally coexist. However, I do think that the motivation behind my work is intuitive to begin with, and that the rational aspect enters the picture from a different angle and at a later point. I feel there is something fundamentally pure and child-like about creative work (whether artistic or otherwise). However, refining one’s vision requires a lot of rational thinking and makes use of a wide variety of life experiences. To make it all a reality, it is important to access both ways of thinking and feeling.

Q: Will photography always be a hobby for you?

As I’ve become more serious about art, I’m also working towards turning it into a livelihood. This doesn’t rule out working as a scientist in the future as well (or pursuing other lines of work as needed). However, I know that photography, video and other forms of visual art will always fascinate me. Turning this into a profession has long been a dream of mine!

Q: Any future projects you would like to share? Any new frontiers to explore?

While many of my images so far have focused on landscapes, I have become increasingly interested in portrait photos. This is still ‘in progress’, but one of my intentions is to bring more of a human element to my work. I also want to achieve this in a way that naturally connects these new pictures with the visual style that I’ve already developed.

Further to these topics, I am interested in exploring new possibilities in terms of video. I have already created a number of short music clips for el culto and imagine this will continue in the future. There are also some other exciting developments in this area that will hopefully become public later this year. I very much hope that, as I continue to grow as a photographer, this will be reflected in any videos I create. The same goes for the more abstract images I’ve created, which have involved digital painting and various types of image editing – there are endless possibilities!

Of course the wonderful photo in the header is one of Jesse’s shoots. You can find Jesse’s work here: www.jesse-harrison.com, and here: 500px.com/jhartwork , and you can follow him on Twitter: @JH_Artwork.

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