Jake Reinhart (b. 1979) is a photographer from Pittsburgh, PA. Born and raised in South Western Pennsylvania; his work is informed by the region’s history and often explores the importance of place in relation to the formation of identity and community. His project “Where The Land Gives Way” was published by Deadbeat Club in 2017.
Jake’s photographs have been promoted nationally and internationally by Collector Daily, The Heavy Collective, Lenscratch, Slate, Ain’t-Bad and Booooooom. His work is held in private and public collections at Amon Carter Museum of American Art Research Library, London Collage of Communication Special Collections, and RISD Fleet Library. Most recently, an excerpt of his current work in progress was exhibited at Northern Kentucky University in conjunction with the FotoFocus Biennial.
Jake earned a B.A. in Sociology and a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh. He served on the board of directors at the Silver Eye Center for Photography and previously worked with the Magenta Foundation as their regional coordinator for the Pittsburgh Area.
The Youghiogheny River (pronounced YAWK-EH-GAIN-EE), the towns, the forests and farms that comprise this watershed have served important roles in my life. The river provided water to the elementary school and borough where I spent my childhood. The hills, valleys and folklore of the area gave me reason to leave the neighborhood where I spent my adolescence and explore the neighboring counties on late night drives. The forest that borders the river valley is where I find sanctuary as an adult. In doing so, I’m provided with the opportunity to reflect upon what this river represents and how it has provided meaning in many different ways to the people of this region, past and present. It is through this shared history that I feel ever more coupled to this place.
As an artist I’m connected to this river through my craft. While my practice falls within the traditions of American documentary photography, I’m critical of the ways the medium has been utilized to facilitate the exploitation of our resources, divide our communities, and reinforce inequitable methods of communication. The foundation for my photographic practice is built on the understanding that the inherent descriptive qualities of a photo are kinetic; any image can be interpreted and reinterpreted depending on the viewer’s place in time, location and method of viewing. We read photographs of evidence of something, yet we take the veracity of any given photo as suspect. I’m intrigued by this contradiction inherent to the medium that I choose to express myself and document the places that are special to me.
When and where did this project begin?
This project was inspired by a thru-hike that my wife and I accomplished in May, 2017. The Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail takes you along the Laurel Ridge and into the Youghiogheny River Valley. At the time I was already thinking about ways to expand upon the photos I making in this region. Considering the history of colonization, industry, conservation, and the current socio-political environment; I knew there was a lot that could be explored.
Early on, much of the work I was doing was research. I was thinking a lot about the role of photography and the influences of representation. I was collecting anything I could gather about the Youghiogheny River Valley. Historical maps and texts, government studies, newspaper clippings. I learned about the significance that white water rafting has played in conservation and mine reclamation efforts. I was also reading a lot of critical theory about photography. I had finished Allen Sekula’s “Photography Against The Grain”, and re-visited “On Photography” by Susan Sontag. I read “Ramp Hollow” by Steven Stoll, and Elizabeth Catte’s “What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia”.
I kept coming back to the paradox within photography. I felt there was some kind of responsibility as someone who was raised within this region, to reconcile the limitations of the medium. I knew that I didn’t want my finished body of work to be read as a photo journalistic documentation of the river or a multimedia project. This was making me feel aimless and frustrated. The photographs that inspire me always contained a suggestive quality to them beyond the literal reading. I didn’t want the weight of research and personal connection to squash out any room for poetic interpretation.
The first moment of clarity came about after compiling all of the historic spellings and interpretations of the word “Youghiogheny”. This watershed has been occupied by humans for 10,000 years. From Indigenous people dating back to the Paleolithic era, to the French and British, and eventually to American settlers. So, Youghiogheny has taken on many different spellings and interpretations, all of which have attempted to convey the inherent qualities of the river or surrounding area. I began thinking of these interpretations as examples of the limits of verbal and written communication. This presented a sub-context and space to explore. Rather than trying to solve the paradox of visual representation, I could acknowledge the limitations and make references to them.
Where do you see this project going?
This body of work is still in progress and without a true title. Titles are usually the last aspect that I address. Having said that, I feel good about the direction in which the work is moving. I’m feeling inspired to keep on shooting and have been thinking a lot about the subconscious aspects of visual communication. Dialect conveys nuanced cultural significance very well in verbal and written communication. Lately, I’ve been trying to consider what visual equivalents exist in relation to dialect.
This past October, I showed an excerpt from this body of work at Northern Kentucky University, in a group show titled “Record / OFF Record”. The show was curated by Rachael Banks, and included some of my favorite contemporary photographers. Other than that, I haven’t shown this work in a cohesive narrative.
When I think about what the completed body of work would be, I imagine it as a book. Time spent in my studio is focused on sequencing, making test prints, and fleshing out various threads of images.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
Well, when things get too heavy, I like to run off into the woods and hide out for a few days. My wife and I are avid backpackers. So we spent a lot of time hiking and camping. In the winter months when sleeping outside becomes more dangerous, we still make time to go day hiking. The act of taking a long walk allows me to process my thoughts and find rejuvenation.
Pittsburgh has a small, but healthy community of artists, educators an curators. I rely on that to seek out conversation and critique. In regards to photography specifically; between the Silver Eye Center for Photography, the Carnegie Museum of Art and Space Corners, there is always a new photobook or exhibition or artist talk that I can look towards for inspiration or new perspective.
When everything else fails, I find that drinking a few beers and listening to Black Sabbath, Wipers or Townes Van Zandt, will usually do the trick.
What’s next for you?
Right now, I’m going to just keep working on this project. I feel like there is more that can be said. There’s a good chance that you’ll find me making photos along the Yough or somewhere else within the watershed.
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
There are a lot of artists and friends who inspire me. So, this is definitely not a finite list.
Ian Kline, Nathan Pearce and Rachael Banks have all provided me with insight or opportunity which has influenced the direction of this current project. If you’re reading this and not familiar with their work yet, definitely give them a look.
Kilolo Luckett and Jessica Beck are two curators currently working in Pittsburgh. They’re constantly presenting work in their own respective ways that showcase the transformative power of art. The ways in which work can be complex yet still accessible and exciting.
Mark Steinmetz new book had me pretty floored.