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Cons & Icons 

An interview with forensic scientist and artist Jennifer Hannaford

Mugshots of David Bowie, Margret Leonard and a detail of the fingerprints creating the mugshot of Jim Morrison by Artist Jennifer Hannaford.

Mugshots of David Bowie, Margret Leonard and a detail of the fingerprints creating the mugshot of Jim Morrison by Artist Jennifer Hannaford.

Forensic scientists are fascinating fictional characters. Sherlock Holmes, for example, was the first to use fingerprint evidence in 1890, 11 years before Scotland Yard. Artist Jennifer Hannaford is a forensic fingerprint examiner and the real life forensic scientist behind the Cons & Icons show at the Jenny Green Gallery in Bend. Her work processing crime scenes and authenticating fine art leads to an incredible eye for reading the situation. Looking at the mugshots hanging in Green's pop-up gallery, there's something of the soul of each person that jumps off the paper.

Hannaford's work starts with the mugshots of iconic leaders, famous public figures and convicts. Each portrait is recreated with thousands of fingerprints, requiring Hannaford to study the mugshot for many hours. In the case of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hannaford's sensitive eye noted the vulnerability of the position he was in when arrested during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1956. The work conveys a complexity of emotion in the eyes of the young 27-year-old King.

"It's a great opportunity to consider why these people were arrested," says Jenny Green, curator of the pop-up show that runs through the end of January.

Hannaford and Green grew up together in Placerville, California. Hannaford earned her Bachelor of Forensic Science from California State University in Sacramento in 1994, and a Masters in Biomedical Forensic Science from Boston University in 2013. 

"The strain of being a forensic scientist is part of the reason she turned to art," says Green.

Hannaford, now residing in New York, took the time this week to discuss her work with the Source. Here's what she said:

SW: How would you describe the art in the Cons & Icons show in your own words?

Jennifer Hannaford (JH): Parts of some of the well-known figures are the experiences that make them human, like the rest of us. The mug shot is a process that captures the individual in a most vulnerable moment, unscripted and beyond choice. While these images are necessary for documentation for criminal records, they reveal more. An entire range of unmasked emotions is accessible. Some images depict the individual not wanting to be arrested and booked for their actions, while others depict one's attitude after taking that risk to make a statement. 

SW: What was going through your mind as you were working on the piece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mugshot?  

JH: As I painted the image of Martin Luther King Jr., I spent many hours intensely examining this man's face; his expression and a slight downward tilt of the head reveals his vulnerability, but his eyes show determination. This moment captures the spirit of a man who risked his own freedom to achieve civil rights for all. Many associate humiliation with being arrested, but I think this demonstrates (along with Bowie, St. Cyr, Morrison, Margaret Lawrence) that people have things that happen in their lives, and it does not mean their creative pursuits or messages come to an end.  These are people who lived productive and interesting lives.

SW: When and why did you start becoming fascinated by fingerprints?

JH: I had studied forensic science and chemistry in college.  After college I went to work for the Oakland (California) Police Department's crime lab, which included a latent print section. I was involved in the processing of crime scenes and evidence for latent prints, and their comparison in criminal cases.  It is hard to believe, I have now been working in the field for twenty years.  The blending of my work and personal interests seemed like a natural progression. Aside from style and content that defines the artist, I cannot think of anything that reveals the signature of an artist's true identity other than their prints throughout a piece of art! Although, I think the signature of an artist's through brushstroke, style and sometimes message is far more important.

SW: Who are the most influential artists to you and your work?

JH: There are so many artists who have influenced my work. Two come to mind immediately, Chuck Close and Picasso, where my fingerprint work is concerned. Both have actually used fingerprints to create portraiture.

SW: The David Bowie piece - how were you affected by his death, having devoted a work in this collection to him?

JH: The death of David Bowie came as a surprise and with sadness. I truly admire any artist with the courage to live for his or her art. We are fortunate he left this world the generous gift of tremendously innovative music, and he was a visual artist as well. His passing left me eager to listen to his music again and understand Bowie the man.  It is clear this creative soul took risks and pursued his passion somewhat fearlessly.  I think most artists, in any medium, wish to create something yet to be seen by the world, with a style uniquely his or her own.  David Bowie accomplished this, and more. His example is an inspiration for me to dive deeper into the heart of my art and push myself to my own creative edges, and beyond.

Cons & Icons

Runs through January

Jenny Green Gallery

849 NW Wall St., Bend


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