Jones is a Toronto based kink and BDSM inspired photographer and erotica writer. She is the author of Berry Sugar: Five Short Sinful Stories. Her writing has been featured in SPLIT: true stories about the end of marriage and what happens next, a collection of sixteen stories written by divorced writers exploring what led them to divorce, how they lived through it, and perhaps most importantly, who they are now that it’s over, as well as Dancing with Myself: Stories of Self-Love Erotica
1. How did you get to where you are now as an artist?
I have only very recently started to feel like what I make has value, or is “real”. The realization that what I was doing feels like art, that it’s speaking to something real, taking up meaningful space, is really new to me. Nothing I ever made felt significant or powerful until I made it about desire and lust and love, about my experiences with these things as I live them, and a lot of that solidified when I fell in love and came out more honestly about my romantic and sexual desires. I am a submissive masochist, and for a long time I wouldn’t even say the words. I kept this part of myself very small and quiet, terrified for a lot of different reasons that I was pathologically self destructive. It is painful to starve desire and second guess instinct.
Then, I fell in love, and the person I love is a sadist, and it was like the world came into focus, or maybe it would be better to say I did. The first thing I learned was that most of my life I had not been protecting myself from something innately harmful, I had been suffocating a massive capacity for happiness.
The experience was transformational, it altered how I think about almost everything, especially myself and how I am in the world. And it changed what I was making. So much of my work is about that experience of discovering joy in myself, it’s all very personally symbolic, like I’m building this mythology - reactions to, examinations of, annotations on, the long slow crisis of denial and the restorative power of honestly met desire. I make images or stories or films out of these points of crisis, where powerful, present internal desires and instincts meet vastly different external expectations, and where these moments become joy or pain.
2. What is your typical day like?
I am a very fortunate person in that my professional work and my personal work can have - if not harmony, than at least coexistence. I have a full time job as a UX designer, and, because I work remotely, I have a lot of freedom in my schedule. Most days I wake up fairly early, do some yoga, feed myself and the cat, make a pot of coffee and work. I do a lot of shooting in the mornings as well, so if I have a shoot scheduled that happens often before noon.
I work my day job, take calls and meetings as they happen. I spend most nights writing, updating my site ( not nearly as often as I should ) or working on whatever I shot that day. A lot of what I write never goes anywhere, and isn’t really intended to honestly - I just need to keep my hands busy.
3. Who or what inspires you?
Love, sex and desire are frequent themes and subjects, but also huge sources of inspiration and motivation. but that’s a bit like saying I get inspiration from living, and that feels like a bit of a cop-out, intellectually.
When I was a little girl my mother brought me to a cove in Newfoundland. It was winter and the beach stones were covered in ice. Frozen on the rocks were the wings of a gull, huge ones, just the wings and some exposed bones from the shoulders and spine. The wings were splayed open and folded a little at the ends, like they were flying. The feathers were covered in a thin sheet of ice. I thought it was fascinating and beautiful and as I stood there looking at it I had this very clear feeling like I wanted to *do* something about them. It wasn’t enough to look at them - I felt like seeing it required me to respond. I wanted there to be an action, a consequence to being moved.
Of course, I was a child, I wasn’t thinking about anything in those terms at the time - in the terms of being moved and answering that with anything. But the sensation, that nameless compulsion was very real. I remember it perfectly, inspiration as a physical sensation. When I am inspired now, that's what I am experiencing. A want for something personal and subjectively significant in response to something in the world. I experience this feeling a lot ways, from a lot of different stimulus: music, excellent sentences in books, pain, pleasure; just recently it was ice on some tree branches.
4. How do you balance your writing work with your photography work?
I don’t know if I do? I work full time, and almost all the rest of my existence is spent either writing or shooting. I like to tell myself that I balance it - a little of each every day. But the truth is that writing and shooting come more in tides. I’ll have a week where I’m making set pieces and shooting or working on a concept for something, and then other weeks where I’m only writing, where I’m cancelling plans with friends and staying up too late to get more words down. I write much more than I shoot, writing almost everyday, and shooting only a few times a month, sometimes not shooting for weeks at a time. But I’m always writing.
Sometimes they inform each other, a story and a photo shoot will have a common theme. With Fawna for example the photos and the film and the story are all different takes of the same scene. But more often the writing and photography are doing different things for me. Photography is maybe more how I examine my engagements with the world, between my body and the world, and writing is how I separate from that, how I explore myself apart from the world.
5. What's the most ambitious project you've worked on to date?
Last summer I wrote a short story titled “Fawna” [ currently published by SLP in an anthology titled ‘Dancing with Myself’ ] and after finishing it I had this idea to base a shoot on it, which grew into a desire to actually film the story. I found an amazing performer [ Nymph Suicide ] and with my former husband now good friend, James Irvin, acting as my tech editor and co-producer, we filmed a ten minute explicit short based on the story, which is about a woman who has a sexual desire for flowers.
I had never written a script, filmed anything with a narrative, or really done anything like it before. I have no idea if it’s any good, but the entire experience was massively empowering. I wrote a short recently called ‘Moon, Jellyfish, Woman.’ and I would love to turn that into a film, so maybe I’ll try it again.
6. Have you had to deal with any misconceptions about the type of art you create?
There is an idea that one can either create art or pornography, literature or pornography. One or the other. I don’t see a need to make a distinction or defend it in either case. I mean to say that, I understand that and why distinctions exist, I just don’t feel I’m responsible for making them or defending them. I’m really happy when the work speaks to others, I am honoured if it changes or excites or inspires. But it’s mine and I make it for me, to help me see or explore or better understand things about myself and the world. I have no control over how other people see that, or the world, and trying is a mostly exhausting waste of energy.
So much of my professional designer self is about making a product, convincing, explaining, so, my photography and writing have become ways I step back from that and really explore criticality and creativity on my own terms. People will line up to tell you how to live your life if you let them - and a lot of time even if you don’t. That will happen no matter what I do or what I make.
I am, however, careful to create according to my values, and I routinely examine and question the quality of those values. For example I write a lot of sexually submissive women but I try to express that they have voices, to show them exercising power, making informed choices, communicating with partners as equals. There will always be people who hate my work, who are offended, who think negative things of me and what I create, and the way I live my actual life. It is much more important to me that my work be safe and positive for the people who enjoy it, including myself and the people I create it with.
7. Are your family and friends supportive of your work?
Most of my family knows I enjoy photography but they have never seen my work, or very little of it. Most know I write but do not know what I write or even that I have published work. I am confident their main concern is always my safety and happiness, and they are a good support network whether they know it or not.
Many of my friends know, and sometimes are kind enough to pose for a shoot or proof a draft. I have also made so many new friends through my work, models and other photographers, editors and publishers - which is the most wonderful unexpected consequence of what I have been doing. Meeting so many other humans who see things in what I make because they have similar thoughts and feelings has been healing and joyful in a way I did not anticipate.
8. What are your thoughts on art censorship on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram?
I’m a designer before I’m a lot of things and one thing I really love about design is working within constraints to solve a problem. Something I actually enjoy about instagram’s censorship is working constraints into the photo, playing with depth or touch or shape in composition in order to make the censor work. Often I think it's better with out it, obviously, but every now and then one will just work so perfectly that it I think it makes the photo better.
That being said, I’m also a designer in the tech industry. I know to a certain extent how good algorithms can be at identifying people, and that the value of much of a social network rests in its ability to do this very thing in a number of ways. We have the tech to have naked human bodies on Instagram and Facebook and have a “safe” experience for users. I don’t really think that the argument can be about anything other than how Instagram and Facebook define “sensitive” to the lowest common denominator, often at the expense of ‘female’ bodies.
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative professionals?
I’m still learning so much, but I have been given so much great advice over the years. My first writing instructor, years ago, said that his great skill was learning to separate himself from the world, to lock the door and close the blinds and turn off the phone and carve out the time to make something.
I may not be a talented writer, and I have a lot to learn about almost everything, but I am really good at making space for work. You can’t write anything if you aren’t sitting down to write. If you want to do these things, you have to actually do them.
My drawing fundamentals instructor in my first year of university told me that I needed to be a perfectionist to be really good. And she was right. Competence is skill that you practice with time, but it’s also care and attention.
At my second-to-last job I worked on a small team at a tech giant as lead UX for a suite of products. At one point I was working like 60 hour weeks and skipping weekends. My product manager at the time finally told me to go home and said “What you don’t steal from the company you steal from yourself.” This can sound like a very privileged stance to take, but taking care of yourself, finding ways to thrive when so much emphasis is put on just surviving, is almost a rebellious act. I think it’s important to find ways to give to yourself, to take care of yourself on whatever terms you can access.
10. What's next for you?
Darkness. Dragons… I do not really know. I wrote another collection of short stories and maybe someone someday will buy it. I have one half of another collection done - this one is a little different in that its a collections of shorts about the same people, the same world. I have a novel or three on the go, and I keep threatening to try and polish their third and fourth drafts. I’m hoping to do a group show this year, and submit some work to galleries, looking for an excuse to print some pieces in a really large format.
My design career, like professionally, is also doing some interesting things right now, so balancing that, not losing touch with the creative work is going to be my immediate goal for the next five months or so.
Find out if there are going to be dragons. Follow Jones on Instagram.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by Jones
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