Caleb Jenkins is a designer, photographer, and filmmaker who lives in the small town of Grottoes, Virginia, close to Shenandoah National Park. He studied at Christopher Newport University, where he received a BA in Fine Arts in 2016. After graduation he started his own design studio, Caleb Jenkins Studio, where he specializes in brand and logo design that embraces traditional techniques and bold layouts inspired by the rich agricultural history of his home state. When he's not designing, he is out shooting Impossible Project and 35mm film. His analog work has been published in Blur Magazine, PRYME Magazine Issue 5: The Impossible Project Issue, and was exhibited at The Wine-Riner Gallery’s event “Flora, Fauna, & Food.” His images have also been featured often by The Impossible Project and by Snap It - See It. Jenkins has future plans of creating his own press that will focus on limited edition artist zines and print collections.
PRYME Editions recently had the pleasure of speaking with Caleb Jenkins about his new self-published zine, Project Growth, the culmination of a series of documentary instant photos that Jenkins took between 2012 and 2016. His series documents the journey of various fruits and vegetables, from orchard and garden to dinner table, over a period of four years. The photos are a study of subsistence agriculture and relate the Jenkins family’s connection to their ancestral roots and to the land. “I created Project Growth to help preserve a centuries-old tradition in my family, to help myself connect with those same ancestors who created that tradition, and to inspire others to start their own traditions.” Shot on a Polaroid SX-70 and various Impossible Project Film stock, the surprise imperfections of the film parallel the increasingly harsh weather conditions in Virginia that determine the uncertain fate of Jenkins' crops each season.
Much like the garden whose progress it documents, Project Growth is a labor of love. Jenkins' 'zine is printed, produced, assembled and bound by hand by Jenkins himself. It features new words and reflections on the series and includes all the original images. The 42 images are printed over 44 pages that appear on 32lb text stock in a 5.5 x 5.5 square format. Each copy is hand signed and numbered and features a stamp that displays the assembly date. You can pick up your copy here! Connect with Caleb Jenkins on his website and on Instagram!
Caleb, can you tell us about your history with photography in general and specifically your history with instant photography? When did you start shooting? What drew you to use instant photography as a medium for this project?
I started shooting photography close to ten years ago now, and in 2011, I started shooting with instant film. I began with pack film, then with the Spectra system, and then finally the SX-70, which is what I was truly drawn to. After using my SX-70 and falling in love with every aspect of that style of photography, it became the only camera I used. I will say that I think using instant film for this project was the right decision, because the time needed to nurture a garden is so intensive and hands-on that instant film mirrors that perfectly.
What camera(s) and films do you use? Are there any special techniques or modifications that you use, anything beyond the ordinary?
My main camera is an incredibly ugly SX-70 Sears Special. It has the original skin on it, so a little more of it falls off each time I use it. I love it. I also use a Sun 600 LMS every now and then, but my SX-70 is definitely my most used camera. For Project Growth I used my SX-70 with Impossible’s PX70 and COOL films. Once COOL film was introduced it just changed everything for me. Impossible’s COOL film is my favorite film of all time, so if you’re reading this Impossible, I’d be very grateful for a remastered edition of COOL film. I don’t really use too many complicated or out of the ordinary techniques, just the typical dark slide covering trick and keeping it under my arm if it’s too cold. If I’m at home I’ll throw a heating pad on top of an image while it develops just to be sure.
The work in this zine is centered around themes of family, traditions, and connections to the land. What inspired you to start this project? Did it change or evolve over the years?
The biggest inspiration for the project was the fact that it was the first family garden we planned to grow since I was a small boy. My family has a rich history in agriculture so I have a really deep connection to subsistence farming. At the start of the project I was just months away from starting my first year of college, which was three hours away from home, so I wanted something special to be able to look back on while away. I’ve found out throughout the years that my family history has been very well documented, so as Project Growth went on, I began looking at it as the next step in recording my family’s history. With the ability to look back on the project after five years now, it’s really developed into something I recognize as a turning point in my artwork and life.
How has the project changed you? What have you learned in the process of creating it? Were there any surprises along the way?
Finishing Project Growth really taught me a lot. It was the first true series of photos I had ever produced and launched me into looking at my images as bodies of work. I go into some detail in the zine of how the project changed me, but in short, a year or two after completing it I was able to connect Project Growth with certain fears I had begun to realize. The only surprise I ran into while creating the project was the support I got from other film shooters. I didn’t expect it to be so well received, but people seemed to enjoy it, and I’m very grateful for that.
Are there other photographers or artists who inspire you?
At the time of making Project Growth, the other instant photographers on Flickr were really inspiring to me. I hadn’t been using the medium very long, and seeing these amazing manipulations and brilliant colors really left me in awe. Now that I’ve had time to really develop more as an artist and as a person, I’m quite fond of William Christenberry, William Eggleston, and Andy Warhol. Christenberry’s pure documentation of Alabama is something I hope to do in the future in my own area, and Eggleston’s ability to notice small details is something I strive for in all of my work. I like trying to see things in a scene that most people would often overlook. As for Warhol, his ability to distance himself from his work has always been interesting to me. Being so close to my work can make things much harder.
What's next for you? Do you have any other projects in the works?
Since creating the original Project Growth, I’ve embarked on illustration and graphic design, but recently I’ve been really inspired to create zines. I just put out Project Growth as a zine less than a month ago, and I’ve already created two more zines in that time. I just want to create as often and as much as possible.