We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Just and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, why did you pursue a creative career?
I have always known that I wanted to pursue art in some way. I grew up taking piano and violin lessons, and took art classes all through High School. I even remember playing The Game of Life, and trying to get the artist career card, as if that would be a sign that I was on the right track. In some ways, I knew that I wanted to teach and make art in some capacity, and it wasn’t until my junior year of college that I found photography specifically. That first darkroom class sucked me in, and it felt right. The magic of it, the challenge both artistically and technically, and the community sealed the deal for me. I knew I wanted to keep going with it. Making art and learning about art can teach us a lot about ourselves, our collective histories, and each-other. There is a vulnerability there that I was definitely drawn to. Being an educator is a job that I have so much respect for, and I think is extremely rewarding as well. Looking back at the teachers I have had that truly cared and pushed me, they absolutely changed my life in so many ways. Art can cross over and work together with so many other fields which was a big draw for me.Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
With my art-making, I always been interesting in storytelling, secrets, and objects. Many of my interests lie in various aspects and manipulations of the past, and how those affect objects, outlook, identity, and memory. I love mining through collected or familial objects, photographs, and stories. They present so many fascinating opportunities for new narratives and reinterpretations. I also write often. A lot of my images come from stories I remember from growing up, or bits of normal conversation that turn I into poetry. In grad school I started incorporating my text into my images through hand embossing, and I really enjoyed that tactile element of it – even though you cant touch it physically. Lately for my work, I have been reading through old newspaper recipe columns, talking with other women about the power of words, and trying my hand at baking my grandmother’s apple pie over and over again. Some of the photos that I am working on now are pulling from a sense of tradition, and picking those traditions apart. I’m excited about where it is going! As far as where I am at professionally, I definitely would not be here without my teachers and mentors along the way. One of the most important things I have learned it to keep asking questions. Who cares if you are afraid of looking silly, it will give you peace of mind, and you will probably learn something new! One thing that I also learned early on ( probably from my dad ) is to reach out, and follow up whenever there is an opportunity. It is easy to make excuses for not doing things, because anxiety is real. And it is ok to sit with that, and be uncomfortable. I wanted to quit grad school within the first 3 months – but it ended up being the best experience I could have asked for.If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
OH man. Well, I live in Waco now, but I did grow up around Houston. So i’ll give you my list for when I go back home: For Houston, for sure visit the Menil Collection ( the Cy Twombly Gallery is my favorite). The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is next if you love museums. One of my favorite things to do after a museum visit is hop over to Herman Park for a picnic. I love to sit by the Lake Overlook and Molly Ann Smith Plaza in the summer. I also miss going to Montrose with all of their thrift and vintage shops – so that would also make the list for sure. Now, for food – the list is too long, but here are some of my favorites: The Hobbit Cafe is one of my favorite places for lunch. GREAT sandwiches, drinks, and atmosphere. Pondicheri for Indian food is killer. The Empire Cafe is also a go to for casual Italian. For coffee – Agora is great. For Ice Cream – Fat Cat Creamery is so good.The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
SO many people. I think an obvious answer would be my parents – growing up they always supported what we wanted to pursue, especially creatively. As an adult, the mentors and teachers I have had 100% have gotten me to where I am now. Jennings Sheffield was my photography professor at Baylor University, and I have her to thank for getting me hooked. I can’t say enough about her guiding me in those early days. From learning the basics, to figuring out grad school applications, and now I am lucky enough to call her my friend and colleague. And to Libby Rowe, my graduate photo professor at UTSA, thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Both of these women will never stop teaching me things. As far as organizations go, the Society of Photographic Education was monumental in giving me access to incredible artist talks, portfolio reviews, exhibition and professional opportunities.