Jessica Hays is a conceptual photographer, alternative process printmaker, and artist based in Montana and Chicago. Her intimate work draws on personal experience to communicate ubiquitous human experiences, tackling topics like mental health, landscape change, and loss. Grounded in the American west, she explores relationships between people, places, and experiences of being deeply connected to ones surroundings. Her work blurs the lines between the uniquely individual and collective experiences.
Hays works in a variety of processes including pigment printing, handmade artist books, video, and historic and experimental photo processes. She has lectured on topics of mental health, climate issues, and contemporary photography at conferences, mental health summits, and as a guest speaker in classrooms. Her work is shown nationally and internationally in galleries as museums, published in a variety of magazines and textbooks, and is held in several public and private collections in the US and Canada. Hays received her MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago, and earned a BA in Film and Photography and a BA in Environmental Studies concurrently at Montana State University. She currently teaches in Photography and Media Arts at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. She was recently recognized as a Critical Mass Finalist, shortlisted for the BarTur Environmental Award, and named a 2023 Chulitna Artist Fellow. Hays’ work aims to explore the interactions between psychology and climate change, investigating how landscapes effect the human psyche from trauma to restoration. To view more of her work, visit jessicahaysart.com
The Sun Sets Midafternoon
Wildfires are raging across the western United States, burning up increasingly large swaths of land every year. While fire is a natural part of many ecosystems, the increasing presence of larger, faster, and hotter fires is a reminder of the rapidly changing environment. Begun after experiencing the devastation of a wildfire in my hometown, this work explores solastalgia, which describes emotional and existential distress caused by negative environmental change, generally experienced by people with lived experience closely related to the land. Lands integral to our identity, our livelihoods, and our wellbeing are shifting and changing without notice or control. The experience of a wildfire is all consuming. It crowds out your vision. The pillar of smoke is unmistakable as anything else. Our communities are facing collective traumas as we wait for news about the spread and containment, constantly refreshing web pages and data bases. Although these are localized examples of wildland fire and the trauma that follows, collectively the scale of these events is unfathomable. The day to day struggles of normal life continues on as fires rage outside our windows, setting our lives in a scene of gray oppression.
Integrating photographs, moving images, and textual works, The Sun Sets Midafternoon examines the immediate aftermath of megafires on surrounding communities and what the experience of local fires are like, interweaving narratives of ecological devastation, collective trauma, and climate grief.