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January 25, 2017

Pre-College Profile: Jacob Koestler

Pre-College Profile: Jacob Koestler

Photo by Rob Muller/CIA.

History of place and film inform photographer's work

By Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz

Jacob Koestler’s passion for art and his fascination with the history of place became apparent early in life.

As a teen growing up in Johnstown, Pa., Koestler and some friends, disenchanted by major record labels and the high-art economy, founded My Idea of Fun. The arts collective and website archives a wide range of art projects and promotes the DIY community and handmade artwork. Koestler’s contributions have involved photography, video, music and the book arts.

Now an adjunct professor and technical specialist in CIA’s Photography + Video department, Koestler says his fascination with place was an outgrowth of a childhood spent in a town too focused on “some kind of good old day” to effectively address the present. The once-thriving steel and mining town suffered the same fate as dozens of other Rust Belt cities. Industries that had built the towns later abandoned them.

“Johnstown had seen better days economically, but because of low rent and a strong interest in independent music, a younger community was able to forge its own subculture,” Koestler said. “This movement would, for the most part, go unnoticed by the rest of the small city.”

History informed his earliest photographs, in which he attempted to show the past, present and future within a single frame. This integrated historical approach remains central to his work today. A portrait shows the dilapidated, post-industrial city in the background. Ruins of a caved-in house are backed by a scene of new neighborhood construction. Landscapes bear the cuts, scratches and light leaks inherent to film photography.

Often, as Koestler travels to perform music and sell handmade books of his photography, he also performs live, unscripted musical scores for his video compositions. “I play guitar and sing as well as looping field recordings — often from the same environment where I am producing visual art. The music project Rural Carrier is lonely and created in the confines of a bedroom, but then it’s also expansive and collaborative, thanks to the process of transferring files online and improvisational performances in and with different communities.”

“So the video will be played on small TVs or projected behind me, and I will react to that video,” he adds.

The approach is as old as the era of silent movies, when live music was played at every showing, and musicians did not always follow a standard score. Each viewing experience was unique, according to who happened to be performing the music and producing the sound effects for a given film showing.

A multimedia approach rooted in history is what Koestler will bring into the classroom this summer, when he teaches (with Jerry Birchfield) the Pre-College Photo + Video class for high school students at CIA.

“Basically, we’ll take everything they could experience here, and give them a little taste of all of it,” he says. This will include traditional darkroom methods as well as digital photography and video.

“We’ll move into the lighting studio to teach them studio methods, and we’ll bring in a model to shoot mock magazine covers,” he says. The class will include work on shooting and editing video, and ideas about how video work can be presented in ways that may be different from the traditional theater experience that students are used to.

Students will have the opportunity to take their work out of the theater, putting it onto the Internet and into galleries.

And, of course, because history matters, Koestler says, “the lectures we’ll give will root the work they’re doing in the history of the medium.”

To register for CIA’s Pre-College program, visit cia.edu/precollege.

A premier college of art and design.
11610 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH 44106 USA
800.223.4700

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