Through her fine art photography, Cruder conveys the story of a woman in the 1970s torn between her call to action and call to motherhood
Early in her career, Jana Cruder showed her photography portfolio to a Los Angeles agent from a high-end agency. He said that her work was technically great, but that she would never “compete with the big guys.” When she asked why, he said that she was shooting women all wrong. According to him, in order to land a big ad campaign, women had to look like they just had sex or were going to have sex. She slid back her portfolio and closed it. Before leaving, she asked, “How do you think I shoot women?” He replied, “They look really confident.”
Fast forward to now, Jana Cruder has become a successful photographer whose work appears in a long list of national publications including Billboard, TIME, Harper Bazaar’s China and more. Cruder is a versatile artist who photographs fashion models, celebrities and conceives fine art exhibitions.
The accomplished photographer is set to return to the Las Vegas Arts District, where she launched her fine art photography career, to showcase her latest collection, HERSTORY. The SOHO Lofts in Downtown Las Vegas will present her artwork from April 11 through May 6. Accompanying HERSTORY, the exhibit will also feature images from her Psychedelic Skies collection. Mirroring the soul-searching nature of Cruder’s work, R. Cline ARTS will host exploratory events including a Virtual Preview with an Artist Talk, Artist Reception and Tea & Tarot.
Channeling the 1970s era, her latest art collection, HERSTORY, is a colorful body of work weaving together vintage fashion, feminism and social activism. The central story of the photography series depicts a redhead woman in the midst of exploring her sexual awakening while her timespan to enter motherhood is shrinking. Themes of “daily corruption, exploitation and entrenched racism in her culture” break the character’s spell of disillusionment. The striking parallels of the 1970s protests and The Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 are evident through her sequence of thought-provoking vignettes.
From Ecuador, which she describes as “mucho calor” (very hot), Cruder chats with Off The Strip on Zoom. She talks about creating HERSTORY, the Las Vegas arts community and tarot readings.
Jana Cruder studied everything about the sixties and seventies eras while creating this fine art exhibition. From listening to Stevie Nicks to watching Kent State Riots documentaries, she took a deep dive into the fashion and social issues of that time period, which reflected the collective cultural shift that took hold of the nation in 2020. This led to the question, are we making any progress?
“I talked with my stepmother, who lived through that era, and she was that woman that was marching and burning bras. My stepmother was part of the march for equal pay,” says Jana Cruder. “And where I was raised, which was outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, they had huge protests. When I interviewed her, I asked her the same question, ‘Are we getting anywhere?’ And she said, ‘It doesn’t seem like we are, but I can assure you that we are.’ And coming from her, that felt pretty good.”
By taking a closer look at Cruder’s collection, several images cleverly use words to hint at meaningful messages strategically woven into her imagery. For example, in her piece titled, “Copy Money,” it is set in a time when women weren’t allowed to have a bank account or credit. The two characters are shown throwing money in the air outside of the bank. The women are positioned in a way that alters the bank’s name into, “Ban America.”
In the making of HERSTORY, along with COVID, one of Cruder’s challenges was scouting the right location and right wardrobe.
“When we found that home, it hadn’t been touched since it was decorated in 1968,” says Cruder. “Everything was original in that house in Palm Springs. The homeowner was incredible and we worked out a really good arrangement. They have a beautiful print of mine hanging in their home.”
For the wardrobe, the Pennsylvania native knew that she needed to source unique collections to find vintage accessories and retro clothing to achieve an authentic look for the concept. Fashion is an important element in her art narratives.
Attire from the 70s has its own personality and utilized high quality materials. She explains how the fashion in that time period may have had cuts and shapes that were massively popular, but every designer had their own unique spin on it. “I’m passionate about how we can use fashion to tell stories,” says Cruder.
Speaking of passion, Cruder’s interest in fine art photography began about a decade ago when she created and showcased her first conceptual art series in Downtown Las Vegas at the Space. When she left, she sold it to Rachel Cline of R. Cline Arts. They kept in touch and now Cruder is returning to the Las Vegas District to present her work in that exact same studio where she began. It is a full circle moment in her artist journey.
“Vegas is so special to me. I lived there a while. I moved there for love, I left there because of love,” says Cruder. “I launched my art career in Vegas. It was at the Brett Wesley Gallery that used to be downtown.”
“Brett Wesley gave me my first ever solo art exhibition and that was with the series ‘What Lies Beneath.’ That kind of turned me on to fine art,” explained Cruder. “Before that, I was commercial. I was like ‘Fine art, shmine art. Whatever, those people just paint things white and stare at cobwebs.’ I didn’t understand the importance of expressing my creativity for me.”
The Las Vegas community helped build her portfolio and she still receives work opportunities in the city. In fact, she even has a place here, but right now she isn’t settling down into one place. She stays in motion.
“I love Vegas. It’s such a pay it forward community Once you’re in, you’re in for life. I’m always getting referrals. I am happy to come back. Some of my most creative work I did when I was in Vegas because we had full creative permission,” says Cruder.
Among the forthcoming events revolving around her latest collection, she is hosting is a Tea & Tarot experience. The gathering will include interesting conversation topics, herbal teas, tarot reader(s), an astrologist and of course, discussions of her artwork. Cruder likes to curate events that bring people together.
“Tarot to me is one of the esoteric sciences. It’s energetic. But you can’t deny when that card is pulled, your first intuition,” says Cruder. “It’s a suggestion and how that lands on your energy field and how you take it has always been a guiding post for me and it’s really never wrong.”
Through her conceptual art, especially in HERSTORY, she expresses inner conflicts she attributes to her astrological DNA. Her three big zodiac signs are a mix of fire, water and air.
Her piece “Love Potion” further illustrates the opposing elements stirring within her. She’s embarking on a self-discovery of her sexuality and through the lens she sees another side of herself emerging.
“To me, that is myself personified. I’ve always had a curiosity about sexuality and sensuality with women. I’ve explored it some, but I haven’t fully allowed myself to have that experience. In directing this scene, it was a really cool moment for me to witness myself in front of myself exploring that,” says Cruder.
As a mixed-media artist, she navigates between different realms within her craft, too. She works both in commercial photography and fine art photography. She’s manifesting in merging both styles into one for luxury fashion designers. Despite how different both sides of the industry may seem, walking the line between them, she continues to revel in her ingenuity. She owns it.
“I am a multifaceted human and I am waiting and excited for the art world to catch up with the new type of multimedia artists instead of the one track. Because I am not a one track person,” says Cruder. “My fine art work, I know at some point, is going to get the big campaigns like Gucci. I may be 65 [years old] when that happens, but it’s getting there.”
Not only does she evoke confidence in women through her conceptual art, but she also applies this method to her commercial work. Despite what that agent said years ago, she’s staying true to herself and trusting the process, which is why her work stands out. HERSTORY is an extension of Jana Cruder just like all of her artwork. Everything she creates crafts a story only she can tell.
“This work is conceptual, but in my other commercial work, women look beautiful, confident, intriguing [and] there’s a story,” says Cruder. “They’re iconic and that’s the way I want to stay.”
She continues. “From this exhibit and from all of my artwork, I hope people see a part of themselves that maybe they haven’t given themselves permission to fully accept and to realize that other people feel that way. Or I hope they ask more questions.”
HERSTORY, a pop-up gallery, will be on display from Monday, April 11 to Friday, May 6 at SoHo Lofts located on 900 S. Las Vegas Blvd. By appointment, the gallery will be open Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Friday from 11 p.m. to 4 p.m. Visit R. Cline Arts for more details.