JP Terlizzi is a visual storyteller who uses photography to explore themes of memory, relationship, and identity. Drawing inspiration from his personal experiences he captures moments that convey narratives—whether the story is a framed moment that reveals something about family and home, or a poetic interpretation of a fading reality, the feeling of loss and detachment are recurring themes in his work.
Born and raised in the farmlands of Central New Jersey, JP currently lives in Manhattan. His career spans thirty plus years as creative director for a boutique agency specializing in retail design. He earned a BFA in Communication Design at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and has studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York and Maine Media College in Rockport ME. His work has been exhibited in the United States and abroad including shows at The Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO, Umbrella Arts Gallery, New York, NY, Soho Photo Gallery, New York, NY, The Griffin Museum, Winchester, MA, Tilt Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ, A Smith Gallery, Johnson City, TX, Candela Gallery, Richmond VA, The Los Angeles Center of Photography, The Texas Photographic Society and The Berlin Foto Biennale, Berlin, Germany, among others.
JP was recently named as the Top 50 in the 2018 Photolucida Critical Mass for his series Descendants, which was also selected as winner of the 2018 International Portfolio Competition and awarded a solo exhibition at the Soho Photo Gallery in Manhattan. In addition, he was a 2016 and 2015 Critical Mass Finalist with his series Mother and Hunter’s Calling—which was selected in C4FAP Portfolio ShowCase Volume 9 and in ONWARD Compé ‘16. His work can be found in both permanent and private collections and has been featured in PDN, Lenscratch, L’oeil de la Photographie, All About Photo, The Photo Review, F-Stop and Abridged Magazine.
He also finds writing in the third person a little strange.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Descendants
I have always valued the notion of family and familial bonds. Growing up in a large, loving extended Italian family I found it disheartening that my relationship with my parents and brother was filled with abandonment, anger, bitterness and hostility. We don’t choose the caregivers to whom we are born, yet we can make our own decisions to positively shape and impact our self-identity and become the kinds of individual we choose.
As I witness an earlier generation of family members pass, it has become important to somehow preserve my past. Not having my own family archive of photos to look back upon, I reached out to a cousin, who is deemed the historian of our family, to go through his photographic archive. As I studied each new face in the three generations that have passed before me, my unconditional love grew stronger as I searched for secrets that each photograph might reveal about the familial lives my ancestors once led.
Through this work I have become interested in the origins of personal identity as it relates to my Italian lineage and its sartorial ancestry. I am curious about how the past relates to the present, and how the bloodline passed down through generations represents the passage of time. Utilizing a digital composite photograph of the old and the new, I incorporate my own blood specimens onto slides, stitching them on the image to create new family portraits and an archive that connects my identity with the past while preserving the present.
When and where did Descendants begin?
This project began with my response to loss and death. I come from a very large extended Italian family. Although I don't have a relationship with anyone on my fathers side of the family, I am very, very close with all my relatives on my mother's side. I lost 9 very special relatives in a matter of 4 years. It was tough, and it was very sad, to go through that much loss in a short amount of time. So this project seemed right. I wanted to do something to celebrate my family, its heritage, and my memory of them. I personally do not have any old photographs of my family (they were deliberately destroyed by my brother, but that's a whole other story) so this project began as a personal keepsake for me. I reached out to a cousin and one last living uncle, between the two of them, they had a large collection of my grandmother's old photographs. I was very fortunate, they both knew our family history, they helped me identify three generations of family members, and they shared with me the stories of struggle my grandparents faced leaving their homeland and coming to America as Italian immigrants. I sat with these photographs for over a year not knowing what to do with them. It wasn't until I was at a funeral for one of my aunts that one of my cousins made a comment about "It's in the Papa blood" (my family's surname) and that's where the idea for the blood specimens came about. I knew I wanted to incorporate thread as a metaphor for connection but also as a nod to my family's craft. Many of my relatives were either seamstresses or shoemakers and thread is common to both crafts. I also wanted something relevant from my craft so I layered photographs of nature all taken from NJ (where all my relatives settled in America) and reworked them into the imagery. The result you see is from a lot of happy accidents and experimentation.
In doing this project, I became enlightened and a whole new appreciation surfaced about the sacrifice, strength and resiliency that my ancestors had to go through to pave the way for my generation to have a better life here in America. I just recently found out that my grandfather was in the Italian/Austrian front lines in WW1 in the Alps. One night he was on guard duty and overslept his post while his fellow soldier was watching guard. That soldier ended up being shot and killed while my grandfather slept. Had my grandfather not overslept my whole family would not be here. I am blessed to have these stories, and to know my family's history, hopefully someday I can pass these portraits down to my grandchildren and share the stories with them.
Where do you see this project going?
This project is pretty much complete. My partner actually stitches the images for me and he is constantly teasing me saying that he's done with the sewing, that this is THE LAST ONE. I might re-work an image of my great grandfather, but other than that the series is complete and resolved.
It's funny, I had no intentions to originally share this project. My partner was the one who convinced me to put the work out there. He saw something in it that I did not. I have had a lot of great response with the series. A couple of pieces have been acquired by galleries. Descendants was selected as the Top 50 in Photolucida Critical Mass. I have had one solo exhibit last year and another coming up in the summer at Rhode Island Center for Photographic Arts. Several pieces are now on exhibit in Panopticon Gallery in Boston and the Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver. I just recently learned that the series was selected for Portfolio Showcase 12 at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, CO. Select pieces have also been in juried group shows as well. I will be attending Photolucida's portfolio review in April where I plan on sharing the work with gallerists and curators. So who knows, we'll see what happens.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
My full time position is being the Executive Creative Director for a boutique agency that specializes in retail design in Manhattan. I have a team of designers and we come up with concepts on a daily basis for brands and retailers. It's fulfilling on some levels and creative, but photography provides a whole other outlet that feeds me creatively that I don't get with my full-time work. For one, I don't have to answer to any clients, which I LOVE. I keep the two worlds separate so that I can practice photography on my terms. I have taken several courses at ICP and Maine Media. I have forged some wonderful friendships from both those places and that keeps me motivated to continue making work.
What’s next for you?
I'm currently working on two projects.
I've been really curious about still life lately. I've been working on a series called "The Good Dishes" it draws upon the stylized rituals of formal tableware, food presentation and classic still life paintings. It uses them in unconventional ways as a metaphor for attainability and social stratification. It's a lot of fun, I get to use my skills in graphic design and art direction and I've been coming up with some fun results. I never knew how tough still life could be, I have a whole new appreciation for the genre.
The other project that I am working on is a long-term project called "A Double Life". I've been working on it for a little over a year. It is a documentary essay, that looks at gay couples in committed relationships who were previously married in a heterosexual relationship. I am really curious how the current relationship is integrated with the old relationship of ex-spouses and how children are integrated. The result is a series of portraits of gay couples with text that talks about the struggles as well as the successes of coming out and integrating the two relationships. I am always looking for gay couples who are interested in being a part of this project, so feel free to reach out.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
JoAnn Chaus is doing very strong portrait work on self-identity and the roles of woman. http://www.joannchaus.com
Susan Rosenberg Jones is currently doing a very strong and compelling series on Widow/Widowers. It's a portrait series with accompanying text on how the widow/er comes to terms with the loss of a spouse. Very emotional, very intimate and very strong work. https://www.susanrosenbergjones.com/widower-project