New Zealand photographer Jennifer French has succeeded, perhaps unusually, in practising her medium on both sides of the art and commercial divide. Graduating with a BFA from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 1987, French has carved a niche for herself as New Zealand’s leading specialist photographer of art, undertaken alongside her art practice of sporadic production of discrete bodies of work. For the past decade French has worked closely with Creative New Zealand in photographically documenting New Zealand’s projects at the Venice Biennale, and she remains Gallery Photographer at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, a position she has held both part- and full-time since 1987, with occasional sabbaticals to accommodate undistracted art practice.
French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) has informed her approach to image-making: fluid ideas of time, duration, intuition, and the nature of perception informed by such thinking. So not so much Cartier- Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ – a crisp excerpt from time’s flow, but more the circularity of time, the emotional resonances that can be intuited from a location or situation. French states ‘Photography, in the creation of the image, is an effect performed upon the object, by a photographer. It is a caress. It is a personal testament, a set of subjective mysteries. A use of image as metaphor for the act of looking.’
At the same time, French considers the photographic image as technologically arbitrary – a framing, a set of tonalities and colour, created by an optical system. In seeking to escape the frame, or utilise its fiction, French’s quiet meditations catch ‘things that could escape back into the ether with no one the wiser, if someone wasn’t there to arrest them.’
French has exhibited widely throughout New Zealand. She was awarded the Möet & Chandon Fellowship and Residency in France in 1995, and graduated with an MFA in 2000 from RMIT, Melbourne, Australia.