A flood of memories came over photographer and artist Jessica Harvey as she walked inside Joliet Junior College’s Main Campus for the first time in years.
Since her days as a student at the college in 2003, Harvey has made a lot of strides in her career – creating a future she couldn’t have predicted when she was only 18 years old and taking introductory art classes at her local community college.
Since attending JJC, Harvey has accepted a number of artist residencies and was awarded a Fulbright grant for her photography projects. One of her most memorable experiences was in Iceland, where she captured scenes from the island in a project she called “i am a rock. i am an island.” Harvey went to Iceland from 2011-2012 thanks to the Fulbright grant.
Harvey, originally from Minooka, came back to visit JJC in April with one goal in mind – to inspire and encourage current JJC art students with her success story.
Just like today’s students, Harvey began her career at JJC, taking time to experiment with all different forms of art.
It was at JJC where she had her first real taste of photography, taking pictures for the student newspaper, The Blazer.
“JJC is a place to experiment, and to figure out what you want to do,” she advised students.
But Harvey did not become a professional photographer and artist overnight.
After JJC, Harvey earned her bachelor’s degree in film and video at Columbia College in Chicago, and achieved a master’s degree in photography at the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan.
Harvey’s first job out of school was as a photo imaging specialist at the Chicago History Museum. She worked there for a few years before taking a 12-month leave of absence to go to Iceland when she received the Fulbright grant.
In Iceland, Harvey mostly took photos of the country’s mountains, beaches, and other natural areas, but she also captured images of Iceland’s World War II memorabilia and other historical artifacts. Harvey said she likes to be alone when she’s doing her work because it can take her hours at a time to capture the perfect image. Right now, she is gathering and organizing these photos to self-publish a book.
Soon after coming back home to Chicago, Harvey resigned with the Chicago History Museum to become an independent photographer and artist. This risk – leaving the comfort of a regular paycheck – was something she did to follow her dreams.
Risk-taking, Harvey added, was something she learned early on, and especially while she was a student at JJC. Her professors constantly encouraged her to take risks in class.
After leaving the museum, Harvey’s venture paid off. This was about the same time she started applying and being accepted for artist residencies.
Some of Harvey’s future artist residency projects will include taking photos along Route 66 next spring, and this summer, she will go to Woodstock, New York to capture images of early 1900s historical artifacts from the founders of the Byrdcliffe Colony of artists.
One of the things Harvey enjoys most about photography is the story behind the image.
“I enjoy the way that a single image can help direct a story in an unexpected way,” she added.
Harvey’s interest in art began as a young child. Her parents encouraged her to be creative, and she remembers going to a lot of art museums when she was little.
As she grew up, her talents blossomed as she started using her abilities in the classroom at JJC.
“JJC has a good community of people. This school is really exceptional in the arts,” Harvey said. “I had a great group of friends at JJC, and excellent professors – they were mentors, really. And mentorship is important because they encouraged me and pushed me to go further. The professors are really invested in their students. They are generous people.”
Harvey is successful in her career now, but she would have never gotten to where she is today without the solid foundation provided by her classes and experiences at JJC.
“I found my voice in different mediums at JJC. This is where I understood art history,” she continued. “JJC is a great space, and an encouraging environment for young artists.”
To see more of Harvey’s work, visit www.thejessicaharvey.com.
For more information about the Fine Arts Department at JJC, visit www.jjc.edu/info/fine-arts.