By Amellia Wood
Jessica Schwientek is known by her fellow artists as a “dirty photographer”. “I was always getting told off by how dirty and filthy my negatives were,” Jessica said. “I didn’t realize at the time that my lecturer did a similar thing and I honestly got really excited at how supportive she was.”
Jessica worked as a chef in Melbourne until the long hours and physical labour took its toll. “I’d always been a creative person,” she said. “I’d tried to enrol in photography courses when I was a chef, but could never find the time. So, when I finished up – working 16 hours a day, six days a week my body just gave out - I finally took my chance.”
In 2013 Jessica enrolled in a Bachelor of Media and Communications at Deakin University’s Geelong Campus. “That was really scary,” she said. “I hadn’t written anything academic in a long time, I hadn’t had to follow any structure, which is probably why I defied the rules most of the time.”
It was at Deakin that Jessica fell in love with old-fashioned film. “It’s a really personal thing analogue,” she said. “As you’re doing it, you think about it, why you’ve done it and why you’ve taken all this effort to make something so beautiful.”
“When I graduated it gave me a chance to reflect on all the time I’d actually spent at Deakin. At uni we had a darkroom and I was also lucky enough to have one in my house that I built in the laundry. The more interested and skilled I got in darkroom photography, I started to collect more and more gear. Not everyone has the resources to work in their house and therefore people don’t do it. That’s when I realized I’ve got to do something."
After graduating at the top of her class in 2016 Jessica enrolled in the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, a government-funded program to train aspiring business owners. She ran workshops, crowd funded through Pozible and exhibited her work around Melbourne. She beat her $15,000 target and put a deposit on what would become NOIR Darkroom in Coburg East, a place where Jessica said artists can practice photography and art, “free of judgment”.
“I believe in representing artists accurately,” Jessica said. “As a first-time artist in Melbourne, it’s really hard to get into places and it’s definitely intimidating but everyone’s an artist and should take the time to explore that.”
“In one of my workshops I was teaching this young teenager, one of the ‘cool ones’ and at the end of the class he came up to me and said: ‘I’m a foster kid, I don’t ever get a chance to do things like this. You showed me something really cool, but you talked to me. His words have stuck with me and they showed me why I’m doing this.”
Fellow artist, Kat Banakh, is one of many to have benefited from NOIR. “It’s a welcoming space, with Jess,” Kat said. “It’s so much about her and her work ethos, if someone else was running it I don’t think you’d have that same atmosphere.”
But running the studio can be challenging for the young artist. “A lot has happened in a short amount of time [since opening in February] and I’m still confused,” Jessica said. “Every month paying the rent, and not being in debt, that’s success to me.”
Jessica credits her time at Deakin as helping her prepare her for her life outside of the classroom as a working artist. “It was where you learn that bridging step between making art a career from a passion.”
Amellia Wood is a first-year student from Deakin University, studying a Bachelor of International Studies (Global Scholar). Majoring in Indonesian and Journalism, she wishes to pursue an international career within South-East Asia in some form of foreign correspondence or communications. Her avid travel throughout Asia and America has formed her interest in Asian culture and her curiosity to understand people’s stories. She aspires to become fluent in at least three languages. Outside of her tertiary studies, she is involved in multiple sporting clubs, enjoys learning new forms of photography and is a passionate supporter of Australian music.