Meet Vanessa Leroy, Artist & bittersweet Juror

Vanessa Leroy is an artist based in Boston, Massachusetts. Leroy is also the juror of bittersweet, a national call for art with a submission deadline of December 18, 2022. Learn more about our bittersweet call for art and submit your work>>

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

As corny as it sounds, I am a daydreamer at heart. That is why I was silly enough to major in photography and delusional enough to try and make it a large component of my career. As early as I can remember, I would find myself looking out of the car window on the way to school imagining music videos for the songs I heard on the radio. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be an artist, and the urge to observe and create art makes up a large part of who I am. Once I realized how healing this practice was for me during the making of my personal projects, I wanted to stretch into photojournalism to see how I could find an avenue that seemed more community-based — a way to uplift and awaken others through text and visuals. So, to summarize, I am a daydreamer, someone that wants to be in service to others, and someone that wants to inspire others to be creative.

Can you explain your process and photography practice?

A huge part of my process is observation and waiting for the spark to arrive. Whether I’m creating more imagery for my personal projects or on a photojournalism assignment for a publication, sizing up my surroundings, watching for the way light is draping around the scenery, and searching for an opportunity to best visualize a person/moment/feeling is how I typically operate. Even during art school, when we had to create work on a bi-weekly basis (which can be draining but useful for keeping the creative juices flowing), most of my process included going on long walks with or without my camera, looking around and observing, and waiting for the inspiration to arrive to create a photo or series of photos. Oftentimes, mainly during the virtual learning era, an idea would pop up an hour before class – and many of these images made under urgency are mainstays in my personal projects until this day.

Additionally, writing and reading are large parts of my practice. I am not who I am without the artists that I’ve studied, the words and sounds that have moved me, and the films that widened my worldview. Significant influences for me include photographers Deana Lawson, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Annie Lopez, Nadine Ijewere, and Gordon Parks; authors Octavia Spencer, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin; musicians Beach House and Beyoncé (Renaissance is the best album of 2022 and I will not argue); and directors Hayao Miyazaki, Barry Jenkins, Julie Dash, and Wong Kar-wai.

Your bio states that you remain “on the hunt for new ways of seeing, remembering, and altering the world through photography.” How do you accomplish this?

I have a few answers for this. My top answer is by reaching past fear and not being afraid of failure. Once I got past the threshold of being too afraid to pursue art in higher education and being too afraid to share my voice and ideas, it allowed for more experimentation in my artwork. Photography is extremely malleable, and there are virtually no rules.

Another answer is through research. I continued on with photography in higher education because I knew how pivotal a tool it could be for social justice and uplifting marginalized voices. As my interest in photojournalism and photo editing increased (initially inspired by the trajectory of Gordon Parks), being invested in learning about the history of photography as well as studying current photographic trends was and continues to be necessary.

Lastly, my final answer for this is that I accomplish this best when I’m not actually taking images. I have to absorb the world around me in order to be a vessel for these findings to flow through me. I have to slow down and enjoy my hobbies outside of image-making, spend time with my loved ones, listen to music, try to reach my Goodreads reading goal each year, cultivate new connections, and take care of myself and my community.

What inspires you?

My first answer to this is that I’m inspired by nature. My favorite thing to do is to take a walk on the trail nearby my mother’s apartment in Waltham, Mass., and sit on a rock by the pond at the bottom of the trail. I listen to music and sometimes record nature sounds. Secondly, I am inspired by the hell-fire that is social media. The pockets of joy that exist on various platforms expose us to thousands of people we would not have known otherwise — seeing their wins, losses, community bonding, innovation beyond our imagination, new music artists/television shows/films/books, etc. Sometimes, it’s nice to be overwhelmed by internet discoveries until it’s time to log off.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a solo exhibition that will be opening at Gallery Kayafas in Februrary 2023 for my body of work “as our bodies lift up slowly”. I’ll be working on deciding on sizing for the prints, the layout of images, making near-perfect prints, accepting the price of framing the pieces, and figuring out how to put together some installations for the work.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other artists?

Decide how much you want art to be a part of your career/work, and once you figure that out, find ways to make it feasible: make an organized website for your artwork (this is a must, I use CargoCollective, but Squarespace and Visura are great options, too), reach out to galleries (for portfolio reviews/representation/exhibition pitches), cafés (for displaying/selling work), photo editors (they look for photographers/illustrators/graphic designers/animators, etc.), master’s programs for art education or art therapy, continue making personal work… I mean these suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg, but there are SO many avenues in the art industry if you can pinpoint what particularly drives you and then scour the internet to find contact information for the industry professionals (starting locally is a great idea, too), that can help you reach these goals!

As a local artist, do you have any advice for artists who reside in the Boston area?

My advice for artists who reside in the Boston area is to not be afraid to reach out to other local artists to join our small but growing community! Boston is slowly but surely growing into a hub for artists, we have yet to reach the scale of arts communities in NY, RI, LA, etc. but we’ll get there.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve known I wanted to be an artist ever since I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away” for the first time. I was 5 years old when my dad played the DVD for my brother and I, and the movie absolutely blew my little brain. I was whisked away on a fantastical journey that I hoped to be able to replicate in some shape or form in my life, and thus I immediately fell in love with illustrating — a love that eventually spread into image-making. I wanted to create worlds for people to enter, and worlds where I felt free to be myself without fear.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

My body of work “there’s a place i want to take you” is currently on display at Vermont Center of Photography until January 1st, 2023. Additionally, an exhibition for “as our bodies lift up slowly” will be on display at Gallery Kayafas from February 10 – March 18th, with receptions on February 18th and March 3rd.

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