Save Our Spirit: An Interview With Anna Jast
At Redwood Art Group, it has been our pleasure to get to know Anna Jast over the past several years. She has worked with us to assist in the management of Artexpo New York, an annual contemporary art fair in New York City. We had the opportunity recently to learn she’s also a passionate fine art photographer — and in our interview, she shares how she took the opportunity of the pandemic to create a statement collection about the amazing spirit and survival conviction of New Yorkers.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself and why fine art photography is your path?
A: Being an architect and a very visual person, I found my artistic expression in photography. Since my college time in Europe, I started exploring black and white photography and participated in many National Geographic competitions. During my exchange year in Marseille, I got inspired by the magical light in the south of France and spent hours in the darkroom developing my black and white photos. In 2014, I moved to New York City, where I attended several photography classes at the International Center of Photography to deepen my knowledge and experiment with photography. In April 2015, I had my first exhibition Street Photography and Urban Landscape at Columbia University. Last year, when New York City became the epicenter of the pandemic, I started my photography project on Instagram called S.O.S – Save our Spirit with the message that while the virus is strong, our New York spirit is stronger.
Q: Why did you do this project?
A: There were few reasons to create this project. First, I wanted to avoid depression while being alone during the pandemic. Second, I wanted to capture this unique moment in history. Third, I wanted to share my photography with the world.
Q: How long did this project take?
A: I started my project on March 1, 2020, when the first Coronavirus case was detected in New York City. It’s a visual diary of the Pandemic where I matched the news of the day with a relevant photo, mostly in a symbolic way. I have been posting one picture per day for 16 months now. This project became my main occupation during the pandemic and kept me busy and creative during these difficult times.
Q: What are the sizes of the images?
A: All my pictures were taken with my iPhone and their sizes are between 2-6 MB.
Q: What is the purpose of the project?
A: The purpose of the project was to document the pandemic time. When New York City became the epicenter of the pandemic, life suddenly disappeared. I was out every day capturing this surreal situation. It gave me very mixed emotions — I felt happy and sad at the same time. The City of Silence was beautiful from an artistic point of view, but it was painful to see my favorite city so empty and deserted.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish by doing this?
A: Besides the artistic aspect of my project, I wanted to keep up our spirit and support New Yorkers during this time of crisis. I felt the need to share my photography with others, while spreading the good energy and keeping up the New York spirit. We were all in this together, and everyone contributed in one way or another. I used my photography skills and my passion to deliver uplifting messages every day and show how strong and resilient New Yorkers are.
Q: Which photographers influence you and how did they influence your thinking and photographing?
A: I was always inspired by the big masters from Europe, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. I loved their black and white street photography in Paris and the unique moments they captured with their cameras. During my classes at ICP in New York, I also discovered Vivian Maier who was a secret street photographer. I started seeing the city life in frames and was looking for those special moments which make every picture unique.
Q: What motivates you to continue taking pictures economically, politically, intellectually, or emotionally?
A: For me, photography is about capturing the moment and showing the Magic of the World. New York City is a magical place, and it changes constantly. I love the energy of this city; it drives me and inspires me every day. I’m looking for magical moments to show our diversity. My photos are mostly emotional, with a very esthetic component.
But last year I also delivered a strong message for equality and justice. I documented the City of Silence during the lockdown and participated in ten bike protests for Black Lives Matter, called Justice Rides. This difficult pandemic year was a breakthrough for me as a photographer. As a result of my hard work, I was honored to show my photography in three exhibitions in New York. Two pictures from Black Lives Matter bike protests have been featured at the Museum of the City of New York and at the Women Street Photographers group exhibition. The third picture from the Lockdown was selected for a virtual exhibition about the Quiet City at the Sembrich Museum in Lake George.
Q: Which image of the series is your favorite and why?
A: I chose a selection of my 7 favorite photos to show the diversity of the covered subjects and the development of the turbulent times during the pandemic and BLM protests. My absolute favorite picture is Hope is in the Air which was featured in one of the exhibitions. It shows the empty Ghost City covered in fog and a stop sign at the light as a symbol of a forbidden zone. The famous HOPE sculpture delivers a message of hope, but the mood of the picture is very mysterious. The lost bike stands for loneliness and confusion, while the Chase signs remind us about not giving up and chasing our dreams. It is the perfect picture to express the isolation during the pandemic time.
About Anna: Anna Jast is an architect by education and photographer by passion. She grew up in Vienna, where she graduated in Architecture at the Vienna University of Technology. In 2009 she moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where she discovered her talent for organizing shows and worked for Baselworld, the famous Jewelry, and Watch Show. Anna has over ten years of international experience in event management on various interior design and exhibition projects. She strongly supports the arts and culture, while volunteering for various art shows and cultural institutions. Due to her multicultural background, Anna is fluent in four languages.