Jared Ragland

Jared RaglandThe Space In Between

Written by Brett Levine     

Photo by Jerry Siegel


Attempting to categorize artist Jared Ragland can sometimes present a conundrum. “I suppose you could call me a lens-based artist, but although I trained in photography, a lot of the creative work I do does not involve looking through a viewfinder or closing a shutter,” Ragland says. He makes this comment sitting in front of a selection of large-scale prints drawn from his project Everything Is Going to Be All Right, a series of 45–60 images based on the novel The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. “The project was the result of a personal revelation,” he says. He had just arrived in Washington, D.C., to begin work as a photo editor for the Bush administration (a position he also held with the Obama administration), and he was struck by the daily grind of public sector life.

“I understood Walker Percy’s representations of the everydayness of life,” Ragland says. What was most significant to him was the story, and how Percy conveyed complicated issues through an engaging narrative. “My work is really about narrative,” he explains. “In many ways I’m a storyteller. When I think about what I do, I think about the narrative arc, and how successfully the images I take or use will be in conveying the meaning of what I’m trying to say.” The Moviegoer’s resonance with Ragland at that particular moment in life was simply one more synchronicity he doesn’t try to explain.

Seemingly random occurrences figure more prevalently in Ragland’s own life than one might imagine. They began when a freak spring storm drove him off the highway and into a college scholarship. “My mother and I exited the highway, and she had material about LaGrange College in a folder she kept with her during my entire admissions process,” he says. He describes his years at LaGrange as transformational; there, he experienced alternative spring breaks and international travel and service for the first time. “I knew when I enrolled at LaGrange that I was going to be an art major, so I immersed myself in the darkroom,” he says. “I worked with film and was fascinated by traditional photography. I loved the processes.”

In graduate school at Tulane University, he learned that there were other ways to approach imagery. Through courses in art history and theory he became fascinated with semiotics and the philosophy of language. “I was frustrated with what I saw as the clichés of traditional photography. I realized that through appropriating images I could take, and not make, the images I wanted, and tell the stories I wanted to tell,” he says. In a project called I AM NOT HIM, centered on Ragland’s father, he highlighted both their similarities and differences, from taste in women to athleticism to ideas of masculinity. “For me, the project was important because it was the first time I used appropriated imagery,” he explains. For viewers, it was significant because he constructed a work that could resonate with any audience as it told the story of the multifaceted relationships that many sons have with their fathers. In I AM NOT HIM, Ragland also established his passion for narrative through the juxtaposition of images. He explains that the processes of selecting, combining, sequencing, and juxtaposing images are all crucial to establishing the structure of a story both in his work as a photo editor and in his creative practices.

This type of complexity now positions all of the works Ragland creates. Everything Is Going to Be All Right—which will be published as a book by Birmingham’s Communicating Vessels (coming in January 2015)—references old Hollywood and classic cinema, maps the changing architecture, demographics, and social and cultural histories of New Orleans, and blurs the distinctions between the historical and the contemporary. Ragland describes the project as mapping “alienation, isolation, and malaise” both externally and internally.

In addition to working on Everything Is Going to Be All Right, Ragland and artist Chris Lawson are finishing a series of collaborative pieces called Godmonster. These works, prints from collages, retell biblical narratives through a juxtaposition of imagery drawn from diverse sources, including Renaissance painting and B-grade science fiction films. Completed works include “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene” (after Titian) and “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” (after Caravaggio). Ragland says that when the project is finished, there will be 66 total works.

Along the way, Ragland has been answering the questions of place. “After living in DC for eight years and serving under two presidents, as well as having the opportunity to work in more than 25 countries around the world, I felt the pull to come home to Birmingham,” he says. “And now that I’m back, I’m anxious to build a life here long-term while focusing on my artistic practice and finding ways to be involved with the burgeoning creative community here.” Indeed, Birmingham, a city he is deeply connected with both personally and professionally, is home. Having grown up in the city, he constantly makes and maintains connections, whether it is with Merrilee Challiss through the series of posters he created for Bottletree; with Jeffrey Cain and their forthcoming publication partnership with Communicating Vessels; or with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where Ragland now teaches as an adjunct professor and works as a visual media and outreach coordinator for the department of art and art history.

What is most important to Ragland is simply to keep creating, to keep exploring imagery, and to keep testing and extending the limits of what it means to be, as he describes it, “an artist who works with photographs.” It is here, in the space between photography and appropriation, between the rote, dictionary definition of creation that artists are leaving behind and the indefinable possibilities of what it will mean, that Ragland likes to stand. “Really it is all about a multivalent approach to content. And somewhere within that framework I am trying to combine elements that are personal, critical, and theoretical,” he says. There, in the in between, Ragland tells his own story.



Leave a Reply