Jeanette Montgomery Barron
PHOTOGRAPHER, NEW YORK CITY
"But ultimately it’s reminding yourself that it’s not going to be this way forever. It’s like go and do something good for you, find something you love to do."
TALKS KINDNESS, KARMA & CREATIVITY IN MENTAL HEALTH
Some may know Jeannette from her iconic photographs and well known body of work from the 1980s - including her beautiful portraits of actor Willem Dafoe, Basquiat and Warhol, and my personal favorites of Cindy Sherman and William S Burroughs. However despite her accomplishments and successes, it was Jeanette's infectious energy, sense of humor and overall aura that had me attracted and so inspired to have her perspective and her stories featured on Hello! Sun.
The conversation with Jeanette and the topics we discuss differ slightly from other conversations on this site, but to have a woman who radiates so much love and light just through her presence alone, it was such a pleasure to score her insights and share it with the rest of you.
I FIND MORNING RITUALS AND HOW ONE CHOOSES TO START THE DAY BOTH IMPORTANT AND INTERESTING. WALK US THROUGH YOUR MORNINGS?
My husband James gets up really early but I like to lie in bed and start thinking about my day for a little while but then when I'm ready I'll get up and start making coffee. After coffee, for breakfast I'll usually have oatmeal or an egg or some yoghurt. I always like to know where my food comes from - especially my eggs. Living up here [Connecticut] it’s nice because the markets around here always let you know exactly where your food and produce comes from, whether it’s down in Cornwall or from Rhodes.
I drink a lot of coffee and then I'll get started on my emails. I always like to get my day organized the night before so I know first thing what I need to do. All of that depends on what I'm doing, whether I'm working on a show or a project, it’s nice because everyday is different. I usually take care of all those things first thing in the morning and save my afternoons for other stuff like pilates and yoga.
AND DO YOU MAKE SURE TO INCORPORATE EXERCISE INTO YOUR SCHEDULE EVERYDAY?
No, I would love to do it everyday but I don’t. I do something everyday though. I walk, like when I lived in Rome I would walk everyday and did a lot of it because the city is so beautiful and I would also ride my bike everyday.
BEFORE YOU BASED YOURSELF HERE IN CONNECTICUT, WHERE WERE YOU SPENDING MOST OF YOUR TIME AND HOW DO YOU FIND THE DIFFERENCE AND IMPACT OF THE TWO LIFESTYLES?
It's different I guess because, well here I’m in the car all the time. When I was in Rome I didn’t own a car for 11 years. I just walked everywhere, rode my bike, took the train, took the bus and I would get lost all of the time which was really nice. I loved getting lost in Rome through, it was always magical.
I'M A BIG FAN OF YOUR BOOK "SCENE" WITH THE PORTRAIT OF WILLEM DAFOE ON THE COVER - THAT’S A BEAUTIFUL BODY OF WORK. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO HAVE EVOLVED AROUND THOSE PEOPLE IN THE 80S AND WHAT WAS HAPPENING THEN AS OPPOSED TO WHAT YOU CAN SEE HAPPENING TODAY?
Well you know it’s funny because you may have noticed, I’m not in my 20s anymore! I mean that’s one thing, and number two - you know it’s just a different set of rules and the art world is very different now as to what it used to be. It's much more focused on big sales and money and I guess it was a little like that way back then, but right now - this is a whole different thing. So you know it was a lot of different and interesting characters but no one was really a huge deal back then except maybe Andy [Warhol].
YOUR PORTRAIT OF BASQUIAT - WAS HE AS A PROMINENT INFLUENCE AS HE IS TODAY?
Well you know not really but he was slowly becoming recognized. You know what’s funny is that when he did become a huge deal was when he died. When he first started everyone was like wow this is great, what is this and then somehow he kind of lost favor and you know it happens to people and then they die and everyone reevaluates their work.
WHAT WAS THE COLLECTIVE ENERGY LIKE BACK IN THE 80S?
I think a lot of people were crazy but then again they still are and thank god because I love them. They kind of give you the little spice to life. They were all down in Soho and it was all happening downtown in these old warehouses.
IT MUST HAVE BEEN SO INSPIRING AND BEAUTIFUL TO BE AT A POINT IN TIME WHERE THINGS LIKE STREET ART, POP ART AND EVERYTHING WAS STILL SO BECOMING AND NEW.
I think there’s exciting things going on now too but I think things have changed a lot and there’s so much pressure in making art into money because living is so expensive now with rent and cost of things just going up in general. You’ve got that element, but there’s always a way - but yeah I think the money thing has changed it.
I ALWAYS FEEL LIKE ART AND THE TYPE OF WORK THAT CAME OUT OF THE 80S & 70S WAS RADICAL AND QUITE ROMANTIC.
Yeah, and you don’t think there’s any of that now?
I THINK GROWING UP AND EVOLVING IN THE AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA - I FEEL LIKE IT MAY HAVE KILLED SOME OF THE MYSTERY AND ROMANTICISM THAT MAY HAVE ONCE EXISTED AROUND ARTISTS AND THEIR WORK. I FEEL LIKE I CAN RELATE TO HOW YOU SAY THE CREATIVE WORLD IS REVOLVING MORE AROUND THE IDEA OF "SELLING", AND FOR ME, I DON'T MEAN JUST MONETARY PER SE, BUT NOW WITH INSTAGRAM AND IPHONES - I FEEL LIKE IT CAN BE A GREAT TOOL TO CONNECT WORK BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE USE IT TO SELL ON AN IDENTITY OF WHO THEY ARE/WANT TO BE OR AS A BRAND. IT’S STRANGE TO THINK WE LIVE IN A TIME WHERE NOW BRANDING YOURSELF AS A PERSON IS CONSIDERED AN INTEGRAL MEANS OF SELLING WORK. I THINK THAT HAS KILLED THE IDEA OF ROMANTICISM AND MYSTERY FOR ME, ON A PERSONAL LEVEL.
I can see that happening a lot but it’s also about how you choose to use it. Instagram is an interesting platform, I like using Instagram as a medium to tell a story to people. Like this is what I’m thinking about today or yesterday I was thinking about Martin and how I missed her. That’s what I try and do, is just tell a little story. And let me tell you, getting your work out there and having it be seen in the 1980s is a very different thing for a photographer as it is today. Say you wanted someone in the New York Times to see your photographs, what you had to do was put together a portfolio and trot over to the offices and drop it off and then you would go pick it up a week later with hopefully a note from the editors saying the standard “we enjoyed your work and we’ll keep in touch”. But now with the way things are you can put something up on the internet and have someone from the New York Times look at your work instantly.
IN CONTINUING TO BE INSPIRED CREATIVELY - IS THERE ANYTHING THAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
You know what’s really nice, is being around people your age. I think it’s really important and for me, it’s not to say I don’t like being around people my age but I think you have to keep in touch with that energy that younger generations uphold - what they’re looking at, what they’re listening too and luckily I have two kids and so I get to listen to different music, see different things. I find now if I go to a party, I always find myself talking to some goof ball standing in the corner. Somebody who you notice just has something really different or interesting about them. I don’t know, you can learn something new and I think it’s important to keep yourself out of your comfort zone.
Having said that, the important thing is you can’t get yourself jaded or take things for granted. You could be on top and be a big deal and then things happen where it could all be taken from you. So don’t take anything for granted - just enjoy it if you have it and try and spread it around. Thank people. Be humble and be modest.
TALKING ABOUT POSITIVE MENTAL HEALTH - HOW IMPORTANT HAS CREATING WORK BEEN FOR YOU IN MAINTAINING YOUR SANITY?
For me it’s key, I have to take at least a photo a day and if I didn’t I would feel like I didn’t brush my teeth or like I forgot to put my clothes on - it’s just a part of me now and my day.
I think it’s really important but that being said I can only speak for myself and I think if you’re a photographer, you’re always looking or framing things automatically from experience. But say for something like drawing or painting, it’s all in the hands so it’s important to keep your hands busy. For photographic work, it’s all in the eye and I think for anyone creative, we must always keep ourselves surrounded by beautiful things. For painting and drawing, it’s about keeping that hand moving in momentum. You know I think when I’m taking a photograph - it’s like I’m meditating. It’s about doing something where you can say its pure joy and it’s because I’m fixated on one thing for a given amount of time. You’re only doing that one thing and the problem right now is that we’re now always doing fifty things at once - it’s really no wonder everyone is losing it.
ARE THERE ANY THINGS YOU DO FOR YOURSELF THAT KEEP YOU VIBRATING AT A GOOD FREQUENCY?
Right now I prefer to be away from the city and be here in nature. I really love New York but now I can only be there for awhile before I want to come back here. I like the space around me, I like the quiet and you know I've got this huge studio here and it’s so luxurious and nice. I feel very lucky and I'm lucky that I can do something I love doing everyday - I mean there are a lot of things I have to do to keep myself up like exercise, take photos, look at beauty, art, driving in my car. Nature is beautiful and I just planted a garden and I'm seeing seeds up and for me that’s a beautiful kind of gratification.
DO YOU PRACTICE GRATITUDE?
Yeah I think gratitude is a really big thing and I’m not religious or anything but I’m very spiritual and I feel like there’s this energy that if you send it out, it’s always a good thing. If you send out good energy, it finds a way back around. I think I do believe in karma and I try and stay away from people with bad karma. I think I’m like an animal in that way - I have good intuition and I think that may be the reason why I do take peoples portraits because I’m able to understand who they are and I like that. I like peoples stories and trying to figure out what it is.
WHAT DO YOU FIND TO BE BEAUTIFUL?
You know it’s that certain something that I don’t think is immediately visible. You have to get to know that person, but sometimes you see somebody walking down the street and you say “oh that looks like an interesting person”, and it could be because of the way they put themselves together or the way they’re walking or looking at something. But I can say if it’s any one thing, it’s like an energy, spirit or something.
ARE THERE ANY PERSONAL PHILOSOPHIES THAT YOU FOLLOW THAT MAYBE STEMMED AND HELPED YOU THROUGH A DIFFICULT TIME IN YOUR LIFE?
I mean, you know I think that if you go out and be nice to people everyday, that impact can really make a world of difference. And I don't mean be fake - just say something nice to someone and you'll see what follows is amazing. It’s the whole energy thing again, it’s just about creating good energy. I mean just talking to somebody or going to a coffee shop and you can probably sense they're having a shitty day and if you say something nice or thank them - it could set their day in a different direction. But ultimately it’s reminding yourself that it’s not going to be this way forever. It’s like go and do something good for you, find something you love to do.