Janelle Lynch at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Janelle Lynch at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

An Interview with Artist-in-Residence Janelle Lynch

Friday, June 7, 2013

­The Burchfield Penney's Renata Toney interviewed Artist-in-Residence Janelle Lynch about her residency, her art and her love of Charles Burchfield.


Internationally recognized large-format photographer Janelle Lynch is the 2013 Burchfield Penney Art Center artist-in-residence. Over the course of this year, the Jamestown, NY native will make intermittent visits from New York City, where she lives, to Buffalo. Lynch will use the museum’s collection and archive to further her understanding of Charles Burchfield’s life and work, while exploring the Western New York landscapes that inspired his paintings, sketches, and writings. She will produce a series of images that will be exhibited at the BPAC and become part of the museum’s holdings. Lynch, who is also a writer, is posting blog entries on the BPAC’s website about her experiences as artist-in-residence.

RT: Why are you drawn to Charles Burchfield’s work?

JL: I discovered Burchfield’s paintings and journal writings in 2006, and in them, a kinship. We share commonalities in our visual language and mutual concerns: reverence for the natural world; appreciation for the communicative potential of light; an impulse to depict and animate an uninhabited landscape; and a solitary temperament. One of my goals as artist-in-resident is to better understand—and celebrate—the affinity I feel for Burchfield and his work.

RT: What attracted you to photography?

JL: My relationship to photography is more innate than it is about an external attraction. I attribute this to my early life with my grandfather. When I was born, my mother and I lived with her parents. My father was not present, so to me, my grandfather represented the most important male figure. As an amateur photographer, he used his cameras to make connections to people around him. He took playful snapshots of family members and me at home and at special gatherings. He was happy when he used his camera. His interest in photography extended beyond the informal image, however. He owned Cusimano Brothers’ Dodge in Jamestown, NY, where I grew up, and one of his clients, Mrs. Siegfried, was a portrait photographer. He arranged for her to photograph me in her Main Street studio several times, beginning before my first birthday until he died when I was four. One of my earliest memories is from when I was three years old, seated in a green pleated skirt in front of her 4-x-5 inch camera, watching her duck under the focusing cloth to compose my image. Twenty-five years later, I began using a 4-x-5 as a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

My second book of photographs, Janelle Lynch: Barcelona, will be published in Fall 2013. For it I have written a short memoir about how as a child I learned to love the landscape through my relationship with my grandmother. Apart from these familial influences, I have a strong inherent visual sense. My connection to photography is then a natural, if not logical, evolution.

RT: Explain your creative process.

JL: While my creative process draws from many sources, at its core, it’s based on intuition. I begin a project in two ways: one is more conscious and active; the other is more serendipitous. I prefer the latter, as it presents itself like an unexpected gift.

When I see something that connects deeply to a feeling, memory or experience, I have a strong visceral response. It’s provoked by how a place or object looks and also by the emotional quality of the light. Beauty is important. These elements combined compel me to explore the possibility of making a photograph. The subsequent investigation—usually in the rural or urban landscape—

becomes part of my process. Sometimes I haven’t necessarily been ready to begin a project, but because the intuitive reaction is so special and rare, I can’t ignore it.

The other way I begin a project is through a more deliberate approach. When I’m ready to start a new body of work, but haven’t been struck by something that could organically lead me forward, I begin looking in a more active way. My visual sense then becomes heightened. I also slow down and allow myself to pause and consider things more carefully, allowing for a true connection. But true isn't enough. To seriously pursue a subject photographically, it must resonate personally and profoundly, and relate to the larger world.

RT: What are your optimal working conditions?

JL: My optimal working conditions include a subject that resonates deeply and is in a solitary environment. Being alone in the landscape allows me the freedom to engage fully with myself, with the place, and with the thoughts and feelings that emerge from the resultant meditative experience.

I use an 8-x-10 inch camera, so also spend a lot of time underneath the focusing cloth when I’m ready to compose an image. Because I work in secluded places, a sense of security is critical for concentration.

Optimal conditions also mean a quality of light that supports the conceptual undercurrent of my work. For example, recent projects have explored themes of absence and loss in the landscape. A soft luminosity was important to complement the emotional aspect of that photographic inquiry.

RT: Charles Burchfield often used dramatic light. Will this be reflected in your work?

JL: I love Burchfield's "euphoric" light, as BPAC curator Nancy Weekly once described it in an essay. However, one aspect of his work that I respond to strongly is the range of ways he rendered light, including darkness. Night skies can be seen in Charles E. Burchfield: Oh My Heavens, the exquisite show currently on view at the BPAC. During my residency, I am interested in experimenting with different qualities of light. My choices, like Burchfield’s, ultimately will have to correspond with the thesis of my study, which is yet to be decided. Solitude is on my mind and for that subject matter, I don’t foresee using dramatic sunlight.


Janelle Lynch is the 2013 Burchfield resident artist. She has garnered international recognition over the last decade for her large-format photographs of the urban and rural landscape. Widely exhibited, her work is in several public and private collections including the Burchfield Penney, George Eastman House Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Newark Museum, the Fundación Vila Casas, Barcelona, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Salta, Argentina.