Artist and filmmaker Katerina Jebb finds weighty resonances within the footsteps of passersby for “CHAMPS-ELYSEES SUMMER 2018,” her short film created for luxury French shoe company J.M. Weston.
A cacophony of richly layered voices – activists, historical figures, and more – are woven together beneath footage of pedestrian’s feet, a military rally, the Arc de Triomphe. Katerina’s abstract juxtaposition bridges connections between large-scale ideas and events in history, showing how these live side-by-side with mundane moments between ordinary people.
Throughout her career, Katerina Jebb has brought a unique artistic sensibility back and forth between commercial work (for clients including Céline, Comme des Garçons, Louis Vuitton & The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and non-commercial projects; alternating and blurring the lines between photography and moving images to carve out a niche for her singular vision.
We spoke with Katerina about how artwork can function as psychotherapy, looking at Paris as an outsider, and the indelible imprint of the female gaze.
Your latest work for J.M. Weston is a masterful use of layering, both visually and audibly. Can you tell us about the initial idea for the project?
Katerina Jebb: I love the spontaneity of recording unplanned scenarios, and so I go to places with a small camera and film what I see.
I look for dream-like realms where nothing is precisely depicted.
I think that I am in search of somnambulistic parallel worlds within reality, the appearance of people and light transforming and composing spectral forms of the walking people.
I make the soundtrack by employing fragments of audio and layering with other voices and musical sound, so that it’s quite impossible to know exactly what it is.
The voices are from diverse sources; women’s rallies, beat poetry, historical interviews with activists and people I like.
How did the film evolve as you brought it to life?
I edit with no preconceived notions and place juxtaposing elements together.
I’ve never analyzed my work before, or answered questions about my way of making films, so this is quite challenging for me to answer.
Truthfully, I think all creative work is a form of psychotherapy.
Editing is 50% of the work, and it can be the most creative part if you can access your consciousness.
How much of what we’re seeing is found footage, and how much was shot specifically for this project?
I filmed all of it. I filmed the live television footage of the military procession from my iPhone whilst on the bridge as the planes were flying over my head, and the rest I filmed on the avenue Champs Elysées over the summer. I really appreciate low resolution, badly recorded imagery, and I’m not really interested in technical adroitness in my film work.
What was the significance of the particular clips chosen?
I don’t know, perhaps they represent Paris through the eyes of a outsider. I’m English, and so I don’t see French cultural phenomena in a typical way.
I filmed the military footage of the ceremony in Paris on July 14th, which is the date of the Storming of the Bastille and the liberation of France in 1789.
How did you approach the editing process and establish the rhythm of this film?
With angst. It is singularly the most demanding part of the creative process.
I try to be free and allow unrelated subject matter to collide and flow together in an ever-changing mental television channel.
I always want the work to look like a strange painting and to be intrigued by the imagery myself.
I have very high expectations, and it is painful to get to the end.
Did this project pose any unique challenges for you as a creator?
You’re a director who has managed to work commercially without sacrificing the integrity of your creative vision as an artist. Can you tell us about your career trajectory?
I began my career in experimental photography in my 20s, and I started making films in my 30s. Now I work in both mediums. My work as an artist takes up most of my time, and I don’t differentiate between art and commerce. I create my work with the same voice, for both museum and commercial projects.
How do you go about deciding which commercial projects are the best fit for you? Do commercial projects allow you to explore any aspect of filmmaking that helps push your craft forward in a general sense?
I don’t have complex reasons for accepting projects, my motivations are quite primal. I follow my own desires and intuition with regards to the people that ask me.
Obviously I’m not a traditionalist, and so the people who invite me to be on their show are aware of what kind of abstraction I will create.
As for exploring new ideas, I think that it’s an unspoken rule that a creative person experiments when they are given the time and space and money to do so.
What past projects of yours best exemplify your artistic sensibility?
All the Comme des Garçons work, as I was as free as a bird, and all the still-life studies of strange inanimate objects as a counterpoint to the frenetic nature of my film work.
Over the course of your career, have you observed any changes in the art world and commercial world in terms of opportunities for women directors?
Women directors and photographers are now here forever, and it will only get better for us.
The female voice and gaze is indelibly printing itself onto the surface of the world in a gradual and consistent trajectory.
More can be accomplished through equanimity and a feeling of self possession than overtly protesting and ranting. A calm and controlled female voice will speak volumes for the advancement of our visibility and equality.
"Listen to people, but listen to your inner self before all else."
What advice would you give a director who was just getting started in 2018?
I would say: do what you LOVE to do.
Listen to people, but listen to your inner self before all else.