Like humans, flowers are dynamic and ephemeral, in a constant state of change. In her visual essay, Growing Pains, New York-based photographer Jessica Foley puts nudes and florals together in a study of what it means to be alive and in process.
For our third installment of Witness, our editorial series in partnership with Leica Camera, NeueJournal sat down with Foley to talk about creativity, her first nude shoot and how 2021 became a year of transformative personal growth.
“We often glorify the end result but I find it’s the small, sometimes painful actions that we take daily that define us.”
Let’s start with the title, Growing Pains. Where does it come from?
Growing Pains began with a journal entry reflecting on 2021. It was an extremely transformative year for me. I got out of a 6-year relationship and with that, experienced shifts in some friendships as well. I moved into my own place and left a job that I had been at for 5 years. I detached from comfort and security while planting new seeds in my life and career. It’s been a journey of self-discovery as I turn the page to the next chapter of my life.
The learning curve was strenuous and took a lot of patience, but If you trust that process [of doing the work], eventually you will see the growth. We often glorify the end result but I find it’s the small, sometimes painful actions that we take daily that define us.
How did you conceptualize the project?
This was actually my first nude shoot so it was really important that the subject and I were comfortable with each other. I tapped my dear friend Kiki who is a model, graphic designer and just an overall amazing human being. I’ve also shot her in the past so it just made sense.
To further enhance the narrative, I selected flowers that symbolize notions of femininity, purity, love and grief, all of which are pieces of my own journey of personal growth. to I placed each one to look like an extension of Kiki—the amaranthus caudatus forming to her body like a draped piece of cloth or intentionally aligning the calla lily to her spine.
“When it’s about the art and the intention is clear, you start to focus on the body as the medium.”
What was it like shooting your first nude?
It was a fun challenge! Most subjects will feel especially vulnerable being naked in front of the camera so you just have to be more aware of how you’re communicating. And after a while, all of that initial awkwardness kind of dissipates. When it’s about the art and the intention is clear, you start to focus on the body as the medium.
I noticed this project is visually quite distinct from your usual photography. Can you tell us a bit about your work and your photographic style?
There are several sides to my work but typically it’s at the crossroads of documentary and portraiture. It almost always includes a human element with an emphasis on color and/or light and shadow. I think my style of shooting is in line with my personality too. I’m an introverted extrovert and an observer who loves people-watching. New York is the perfect landscape for that since there are so many characters out here. It’s easy to get inspired just by stepping outside.
And travel is also a key part of my work. You’re exposed to new cultures, colors, environments—and naturally, the people are going to be different as well. Being able to capture these beautiful places and moments has helped develop both my creative eye and perspective.
What were you looking to take advantage of in terms of shooting on a Leica and which camera did you use?
I went with the Leica SL2. I love the way it captures light and color. The photos were nearly perfect straight out of the camera so I didn’t have to do too much in post-production.
I had been debating between two concepts for this project actually. The other concept leaned more towards my usual work, more docu-style and shot in various environments with multiple subjects. But I haven’t really seen Leicas used in-studio as much and wanted to test how the camera handles in-studio lighting so I ended up opting for this current project. I really love the result. The quality of the photos and overall build of the camera is on another level.