Meet Janna Ireland of Art & Art History, who has had solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, and other cities. Her photos have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, and many other publications.
Ireland comes to Occidental from Pasadena City College, where she had been an adjunct instructor of visual arts and media studies since 2018. She has a BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA from UCLA. In 2020, she published Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View (Angel City Press), a collection of black-and-white images that documents the work of the trailblazing Black architect (1894-1980).
What attracted you to Occidental?
Several years ago, I made the decision to commit to living in Los Angeles. That meant that I was limited to applying to teaching jobs in the LA area. Full-time positions teaching photography at the college level are few and far between, and only a small handful–maybe one to three–pop up in LA each year. But even with so few opportunities, I didn’t apply to anything that didn’t feel right. I’ve never been more excited to apply for a job than I was when I read the listing for the position I now hold at Oxy. Perhaps some of that enthusiasm came through in my application and helped me stand out!
I’ve worked and studied at several different kinds of institutions, and for a long time, I felt that a small liberal arts college would be the right place for me. I knew that I wanted to be at a school with a wide variety of fields of study outside of the arts–I don’t just want to teach art majors, I want to teach biology majors and math majors and English majors, too. I also knew that I wanted to be at a school small enough to give me a real sense of community. I knew that I wanted to be part of an interdisciplinary art department, as opposed to a siloed photography department. Oxy meets all of those criteria, and has the added bonus of a really strong faculty in the Department of Art and Art History that I am proud to now call my colleagues.
What does it mean to you to be one of Oxy’s first Mellon Faculty Diversity Initiative Post-Doctoral Fellows?
I think that the position speaks to Oxy’s real commitment to diversifying the faculty, and that is very meaningful to me. As a student, faculty diversity was incredibly important to me–I wanted to learn from people with many different kinds of life experiences, and also be confident that at least some of them would understand parts of my own experience. As an educator, I feel that a diverse faculty and student body are crucial to the success of any institution that truly wants to prepare its students for the current world, and for the future. However, I am having a hard time answering this question because I know that there will always be people who assume that a “diversity hire” is underqualified, and was hired just to check various boxes. I am incredibly grateful for and proud of my fellowship, yet wary of discussing it with other people.
You have a studio space in your new home for the first time now. What kind of an impact has that had on your work?
Well, I had a small studio at my house before joining the faculty at Occidental. My studio at Oxy is a much better place to work–when I can get there!
My family and I moved to Eagle Rock (not from far away, but from another part of LA) right before I was hired by Oxy, for reasons completely unrelated to the school. My studio at Oxy is a very short drive from home, but far enough away that I can work there in a way that I can’t at home. Fewer distractions, and more of a sense that when I enter the studio I am “going to work.”
My work as an artist and my work as a teacher are really intertwined, and my studio on campus is a special place to focus on those things. I’ve never had a space quite like it. Though I don’t talk much about my work as an artist with my students, I know they are absorbing things about the life of a working artist every time they visit me in my studio for office hours. Something really wonderful about my studio is that my library of photo books is in the same building I teach in; if I want to show a book to my students, I can just go pick it up off the shelf!