ELLEN JACOB, SHORTLISTED 3RD BIENNIAL’S GRANT 

STATEMENT-ARCTIC FADING

My father died on April 5. He was 90. Ten days later, I landed in Svalbard, the Norwegian

island roughly 650 miles from the North Pole. Boarding a small, expeditionary ship, I

headed further north.

The Arctic, no matter how substantial it seems in the endless daylight of spring, is

becoming illusory. Each year, the ice melts a little sooner, retreats a little further toward

the pole. Each year, this amazingly complex community of life contracts. Every living thing

feels this loss — the masses of microscopic plankton, the whales, the bears, birds and

foxes, and ourselves.

As the Arctic disappears, it takes parts of the planet’s life force with it. The serene

landscape belies the ongoing violence, the slow destruction. Drifting for days among the

ice floes and frozen islands, this vast landscape, with large creatures lumbering through

desolate areas, became very personal. It allowed me a contemplative moment to reflect

on mortality—my father’s, my own and the planet’s.

In the dust-free Arctic air, it is clear that we are losing sustenance; fading.

If selected, I will use the funds to expand the imagery and audience; to help bring

awareness of the Arctic’s changing and eroding habitat. I will create hand-bound books,

each containing one original print.

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STATEMENT-US AGAINST THE WALL

Even though we have very different backgrounds, come from different places and hold

differing beliefs, there is sameness in our diversity. We often feel divided and isolated, and

we offer myriad reasons for this isolation: race, class, politics, religion, gender,

economics, birthplace and more. James Baldwin said: “The purpose of art is to lay bare

the questions that have been hidden by the answers.” I want my images to seek those

hidden questions.

In this series, Us Against the Wall, I photograph immigrants against graphic backgrounds

of walls to bring attention to the victims of the United States government’s current war

against immigrants. The faces of the undocumented are hidden, as they are

photographed from the back, highlighting how invisible they must be in the present

moment. Citizens and documented immigrants faces are shown.

I see this work as part of a new approach to portraiture in the service of social

engagement. It is born of a need to protect the undocumenteds’ invisibility while making

them very visible; to reveal the government’s actions as an attempted theft of identity.

Faces remain hidden and intimate portraits emerge through subtle body angles, wrinkles

in clothing, hairstyles, a head tilt, a battered backpack, a tattoo, a hand gesture.

My artistic goal is to break down the barriers and strengthen our communities. As

someone who accompanies immigrants to their ICE check-ins, I see the United State’s

government tearing apart families and creating fearful communities. I create these images

because I believe we must build human connections between the undocumented and the

rest if we are to tear down the walls that divide us.

This work is on-going. I am focusing on photographing undocumented immigrant

mothers and their American children who are living in sanctuary to avoid deportation. I

am interviewing and recording the mothers. I am working on a book, which partners my

images with a DACA dreamer’s poetry. I am also planning an installation, where large

images will be hung throughout the exhibition room, creating a maze-like affect. At the

end of the maze, the viewer can have their photo taken against a wall. These installations

will be in immigrant communities, where both immigrants and citizens can come together

and form one community.

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