When asked what she does for a living, Jovan Speller says she is the curator of her own life.
But you may know her as a teacher, wellness coordinator, gardener, entrepreneur — and photographer. She has taken photos all across the U.S., working in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Madison, Wis., before coming to Rochester last year to start a wellness community. She was born in Los Angeles.
Speller is teaching classes at the Rochester Art Center.
When did you start taking photos?
I started when I was 12. I’ve been in the darkroom since I was 12.
When did you sell your first photo?
When I sold my first photo, I wasn’t trying to sell anything. It was in high school. There was an exhibition of student work, and my photo was stolen from it. It was taken and put back because it was kind of risque picture. I think some kid took it, left it and then someone found it and brought it back. Somebody’s parent called the photography teacher and said, ‘I want to buy that piece.’ At first, I wasn’t sure what to do, how much to sell it for. We agreed to sell it for $80, and I met the lady at a coffee shop because I was kind of sketched out too that someone’s mom wanted to buy this photo.
What was your first job as a photographer?
I started out shooting portraits and photos for Christmas cards, and I hated it. I wanted to pull my hair out. I did that in college my freshman year to make money. I took pictures of these kids for their parents’ Christmas cards. They asked me to do it again the following year, but I told them I would never do it again. I hated it. So then, at that point, that’s when I started asking myself, what do I do? If I define myself as an artist, what should I do? I haven’t really answered that yet.
You strictly use film. What about film appeals to you? (Editor’s note: Speller uses Mimaya 645 and a Holga 120 cameras.)
With film, you can be very individualistic, and I’m very individualistic. With film, you can do your own thing. You can make it unique, and I find that’s so difficult with digital. If everybody has the same stuff, how do you make it unique? I don’t get it.
You said you want to provide a wellness community for local artists. Why does that interest you?
I’ve always worked with artists, whether it was in a supporting role or a feature artist or as a curator or just writing grants and management, administrative or teaching. I’ve always, always, always worked with artists. I’m always interested in seeing emerging artists get the opportunity to be taken seriously. I feel like in larger cities that’s not something that often happens. There are programs in place to make that happen, but there are too many artists to really make a difference now.
You also teach at the art center. What are some tips you would give a budding photographer?
In this day and age, in this digital time, learn the basics. Just get into a darkroom, learn how to develop film, print on paper. Maybe even use chemistry and coat your own paper. Just try and experiment. Mess up, fail. There is so much failure in film. You just have to really learn it before it comes out right and just accept that and be down for the journey.