Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interview with J Swofford

q)Please introduce yourself and tell us something about yourself and
your background.

a) My name is J Swofford. The letter J is my full first name and that is the way it appears on my birth certificate. My father's name is James Oscar Swofford III. He wanted me to be the IVth but my mother protested. They named me J as a sort of compromise. I grew up in rural Virginia in the Eastern United States as a bit of an isolated child. My family was good and caring but there were not other people nearby and I had few friends. The nearest grocery store was a half hour's drive away. My father is an artist and I grew up surrounded by art but I didn't embrace it right away. I think a part of me wanted to find my own way without feeling like I was mindlessly copying my father. I'm a contrarian at heart. I'll sometimes make a decision just to go against popular sentiment. I've lived all over the United States but I've settled for the past fifteen years in dark and rainy Portland, Oregon. Currently, in addition to shooting photos, I work at the Portland Art Museum. I also enjoy making my own fruit wine. As I write this I'm enjoying a bvit of wine I made from nectarines.

q)Talk about your art.

a) I am most in love with analog photography. I enjoy working with film and developing prints in the darkroom. Working with light and chemistry is a kind of magic. 

q) What’s the central theme of your work?

a) In everything I do I am exploring the symbolic connotations of images. In 2005 I read Carl Jung's "Man and His Symbols" and it changed my life. Since then I have been using photography to explore the unconscious mind and the Archetypes. I am fascinated with the idea that there is another intelligence hidden within my mind that is akin to all the gods, devils, angels, and demons that have ever been or ever will be.  

q) your most beautiful dream

a) Last night I dreamt that I moved to Chicago and got a job working in a ramshackle orphanage.

q) your worst nightmare

a) The first nightmare I ever had I dreamt when I was quite young, maybe four or five years old. I remember shrinking smaller and smaller. My point of view was under a faucet as a drop of water was gathering on the edge of the opening, threatening to fall as it grew larger, and a deafening sound of static grew louder and louder. I woke up yelling "no, no". So far it has been the only nightmare I've had.  

q) Best way to spend a day off?

a) When I get a day off from the museum I will often spend the day working on collage. Sometimes I like to have beer for breakfast.

q) who, what inspires you ....

a) I am greatly inspired by mythology and magic, both ancient and modern. I read a bunch of occult blogs written by contemporary witches, alchemists, and sorcerers. All the ancient Archetypes are still alive today and they probably will be forever. I am inspired by dreams and hypnogogic visions. I am inspired by the idea that, just like Joseph Campbell said, all the demons, all the angels, all the heavens and all the hells are inside me. By being quiet and learning how to listen to them they can all speak to me.

q) books that you love….

a) Carl Jung's 'Man and His Symbols' and 'Psychology and Alchemy', Joseph Heller's 'Catch-22', Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Silmarillion' and 'The Hobbit' (This is the first book I remember being read to me as a child), Grimm's Fairytales, Aesop's Fables, Bullfinch's 'Mythology', 'The Picatrix', Crowley's 'Vision and the Voice' and the 'Book of Thoth', Ursela LeGuin's 'Wizard of Earthsea', Julia Kristeva's 'Powers of Horror', Edward Weston's 'Daybooks', Minor White's 'Zone System Manual', Israel Regardie's 'Golden Dawn', 'The Lemmegaton', Agrippa's 'Three Books of Occult Philosophy', ...

q)music…artists….that you love

a) In music I tend to avoid Pop in all its forms, especially country but almost everything else I listen to all the time- classical, rock, industrial, metal, ambient noise, jazz, country, bluegrass. I love Mozart's 'Magic Flute', David Bowie, The Smith's, Joy Division, The Cure, Avalanches, RJD2, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Femi Kuti, Frank Sinatra, Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, The Minutemen, and so many more. In music I am guided by my mood. One day it will be Snoop Dogg and then next it will be Bach and then it will be Autechre.
In art all of it has something to teach me but I am especially drawn to all things ancient and Neo-Classism of the 19th Century. I also really enjoy some of the art coming out of China right now.

q) What are you really excited about right now?

a) I've been following the court case of Prince vs Cariou with great interest. Working in collage as I have been I think that case has far reaching implications for appropriated art material. I've also been studying the Tarot quite intently.

q)your current projects….

a) For the past three years, and probably into the foreseeable future, I've been working on 'The Riddle of the Echo' which is a photographic project exploring the image making capacities of the unconscious mind. I've also started to design my own tarot deck in the style of 'The Riddle of the Echo'. I am also working on a digital project with the same themes to be sold on in July 2013.

q)your future projects….

a) For a while I've been kicking around the idea of illustrating the Mansions of the Moon and the Astrological Decans using live models. I'm still researching this idea so I've not gotten started on it yet.

q) Where can people see more of your work on the internet?

a) You can see more of my work on my own website,, although I am often slow to update it. My work is also featured on as well as (I am also interviewed on this one). I have a page,, my handle is unconsciouseye. I also have a page of my work at

q) Final words?

a) Final words... what can I say. I want to thank everyone who looks at my work, especially those to whom it speaks. I am always open to feedback and would love to hear from all of you.