Noted for being a 'romantic realist', poet, photographer and filmmaker, Jem Goulding never has a dull moment. We sat down with the artist as she discusses her intimate creative process as she explains, “there is no science in the art of chemistry.”
Jem’s ability to create a seductive, sensual story is not limited to still life. This summer, her short documentary "The Fragile Balance", was well received at numerous film festivals including London, Seattle, Stockholm and Marfa. Her latest short film also serves as the music video for British band Money's standout track, "Goodnight London."
True to form, the film goes beyond "music video" offering us that cinematic poetry Goulding does so well.
I know there has been a photography book in the works for a few years now. Could you tell me a little about the project and its current status?
The project, “Companion”, is basically a photo diary of temporary and transient romance, a look at the relationships we enter into knowing they will inevitably end. It’s also a travel book of sorts- as each study was made far away from home, when I became interested in the physical and emotional freedoms we allow.
How will you know when the project is ready to publish? Especially since it’s unlikely your romantic life itself will ever die- I’m sure it’s emotionally exhausting in some ways- and potentially distracting to constantly feel the need to document.
I’m exhausted in ways and exhilarated in others. But it’s not the photography that’s taking my energy, it’s lust and love and loss. For the first time, I feel the beginning to the end of this thing. But I don’t want to speak too soon! It’s impossible to predict life or to pressurize its outcomes.
You have a talent for displaying chemistry in your imagery. The Fragile Balance has a seductive, sort of steamy quality to it- to the point that I’ve heard some Bertolucci comparisons and assume he’s probably an influence of yours. How do you communicate this visually?
I have no idea how I do it; there is no science to that kind of chemistry, no formula. I’m patient with my subjects and I try to be integrally myself, which shows people I’m not hiding anything from them. You can’t manipulate trust and I think that trust comes across in my work more than sexual chemistry. I’m conscious of the tension in a moment I’m capturing. It’s becoming a signature style, but I’m undecided on how I feel about that.
I think it’s a good thing. The Fragile Balance just closed the Marfa Film Festival. And recently there’s been the release of your project, Goodnight London.
Yes, Marfa is a wonderful, nurturing community for artists of all kinds. In my opinion Goodnight London is closer to the Bertolucci school than The Fragile Balance, in terms of chemistry.
But The Fragile Balance still has a very sensual undertone.
Yes, but as a narrative in Goodnight London, I depicted sexual chemistry, sexual attraction and sexual intercourse directly, yet in a nuanced manner. Bertolucci gets away with sex scenes that most directors wouldn’t because of his ability to compose some incredibly desirable imagery. This was a challenge I set up for myself. I had written a story about Internet dating, essentially. And computers are such ugly objects to capture on film! I strove to take on something as visceral or vernacular as Internet masturbation and turn it into an epic love story, with really beautiful imagery.
Between the still imagery and moving image, do you find that either format provides more scope to capture true emotion and sensuality?
I don’t feel any divide between still and motion. I take both kinds of cameras with me to most places. They are both just storytelling apparatus’, both just an extension of my vision; they see what I see. Our eyes are lenses, really. And sometimes I see something that I want to capture in a continuous flow of energy and other times, I want to freeze frame to give it some sort of immortality.
Do you seek to do the same with your writing?
Totally. Poems are all just image-making, and another way to share stories.
Right, your poetry is also an extension of your eyes and how you see the world- that’s why your work with “Cine-poetry” is so interesting.
It’s how I feel about the world and what I’m experiencing in it. Adapting my poetry into visual forms like film or photography is like milk and honey in your tea; they just go together. It’s a workflow. I paid very little thought to it in the beginning because it was a natural, instinctual process.
A lot of your work feels as though it were driven by instinct.
I’m totally ruled by instinct, both in my personal and work life- which obviously have many crossovers. After filming Goodnight London, the lead actor Olivier Barthelemy told me I was “committed to instinct like a wolf”. I was into that, especially because he said it in French.
Most of your poetry has a very sexual nature.
I’m writing about sex because I find it and everything surrounding it abundantly interesting. I would want readers to feel connected to the thing I’m sharing, which is why I try to keep my depictions relatable. That’s what it’s all about: keeping it real and memorable. If making work that is visceral and raw makes me a sex-poet then so be it; but sex is a vast landscape with a very open sky.