Jessica Lutz is a photographer and filmmaker based in Far West Texas. Her work is an evolving visual ethnography of the Big Bend region and the borderlands along the Rio Grande. Assignments can be seen in Texas Monthly, New York Times, Mother Jones, Al Jazeera, Texas Tribune, Texas Architect and in a variety of film projects.
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Big Bend Sentinel
By John Daniel Garcia
Marfa-based photographer Jessica Lutz fell into desert life in the Big Bend region almost by accident.
After 13 years living and working in New York City, Lutz had her bags packed and an airline flight booked from El Paso to Los Angeles, where she had planned to begin another chapter of her life. Along the way, however, she landed in Terlingua to attend a small music festival and couldn’t bear to leave the wide-open skies, the deep canyons cut into the mountains, the fresh air, and the vast and sparse landscape behind.
“I still found myself there after a few cancelled airplane tickets,” she laughed. “Those first few months went by fast.”
She did eventually make her way to California, where she found herself yearning for the starlit skies in a land where concrete and glass didn’t make up a majority of the landscape. She made her way back to West Texas, choosing Marfa as the place to lay her head.
By the time she had made her initial trip to Terlingua, Lutz had found her passion for photography, after having exhibited a body of work in New York featuring psychedelic “mandalas” prints in which she would take photos of organic objects and painstakingly arrange the film to get the desired kaleidoscope effect. That first exhibit, which was offered to her unexpectedly, led to several more in the city, including one at the United Nations.
While working for the National Geographic Society raising funds from corporate sponsors, Lutz was introduced to photographers from the publication, who raised her interest in documentary photography and fed her wanderlust with trips to far away lands, such as India, Belize, the Amazon, and Mexico.
One of these revelations took Lutz to Oaxaca for an intensive workshop with National Geographic and Magnum photographer David Allen Harvey, who Lutz says drew her out of nature photography into the documentary-style which she still retains in her work.
In the recent years, since she’s lived in the area, she’s kept herself busy shooting the people of the borderland; mixing her subjects of the native Tarahumara population of Northern Mexico and the rough necks of Terlingua.
Some of her work can be seen on CD music covers of Terlingua musicians such as David Shane Duke, George Goss, and Hank Woji.
Lutz has also found herself become more and more drawn to video after having taken stills for a short film shot in the Terlingua badlands. The experience led her to shoot a music video for songwriter Alex Whitmore, in addition to a satirical rap video, which was featured on the online media publication Burn Magazine.
Though her passion is in photography, Lutz takes on various other projects as to not burn out. She co-produced this year’s 24-hour Plays and will help cast the upcoming feature Wasteland, to be shot in the area. She has also taken up the fiddle.