Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a private investigator, investigating everything from internet stalkers to missing persons? Meet “Jessamyn Jones” a.k.a. Jessamyn Lovell, senior lecturer and visual artist at The University of New Mexico’s College of Fine Arts. She is creating art and adventure in her current project, “D.I.Y. P.I. (Do It Yourself Private Investigation),” where she takes you into the world of private investigation.
Lovell recently showed a solo exhibition of “D.I.Y. P.I.” at Central Features Contemporary Art. This long-term conceptual art piece, which includes photography and videography, documents her journey of private investigation, starting with her pursuit to become a licensed private investigator.
Lovell’s work is largely drawn from her own life experiences - which were the subject of the 2015 episode of “This American Life The Haunter Becomes the Haunted. (Episode 556: Act III).” Throughout her life, she has been researching her own stories using privacy and narrative to question where truth meets fiction. Her research began with “Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions,” an in-depth project where she photographed and recorded her family’s experience of poverty.
The next phase of her career led her to utilize surveillance as a critical tool in examining her own identity, starting with “No Trespassing,” a project that documented her personal investigation of her estranged father. Later, her identity was stolen by a San Francisco woman whom she found, followed, and photographed to make the project “Dear Erin Hart,” an art exhibition, book, and the subject of international media attention.
“Working alongside seasoned private investigators has taught me on the one hand how easy it is to find information about anyone while simultaneously how much time, how many resources and tools are needed to uncover information about someone who doesn’t want to be found,” said Lovell. “I became fascinated with how closely connected the power dynamic in the use of photography is with those at work in private investigation.”
To date, she has worked more than 6,000 hours on cases collecting the traces of identity left behind by her clients, targets, subjects, and herself. Lovell works closely with clients of all types to support their own empowerment in difficult situations by finding tools they can use to gain agency in situations where they feel powerless. These cases have ranged from lost cats, missing persons, and paranormal mysteries. Lovell sees her work as an investigator and artist as a cultural worker finding paths to what types of information private citizens have access to and learning how to access the information. Living in an age of “truthiness” and “fake news,” Lovell hopes that she can uncover the importance of the storyteller in our culture.
“Lovell brings to UNM’s Department of Art a unique process of photography that is simultaneously removed and critical of its subject matter, as well as intimate,” said Justine Andrews, chair of UNM’s Department of Art. “Her ability to connect to people and their stories with an observer’s eye and an artist’s sincerity, makes her a tremendous asset to our students.”
At the time of this writing, Lovell has yet to receive her private investigation license. She plans to continue this project to further document her work in private investigation. Additionally, Lovell will expand this project to include a mobile art installation that will support her private investigation efforts.
To learn more about her work and follow “D.I.Y. P.I.,” visit https://www.patreon.com/JessamynLovell.