The Ark: Monica Jane Frisell

The Ark, Sketch 4 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

This past week, Photographer and Artist, Monica Jane Frisell left Seattle after several months of building out a wild idea that she’s had since she was a teenager. She and a close friend have fabricated a vessel containing a fully mobile and totally functional black and white analog darkroom so that she may travel the continental United States in a fully contained, fully functional, photographic “home and studio”.

Esthetic Lens is happy to welcome Monica as a Contributing Editor and we look forward to publishing her work on an ongoing basis while she travels the U.S. at a very transitional time and photographically documents where we are at as a country.


The Ark, Journal Entry | ©Monica Jane Frisell

I’ve crossed the finish line…building a strange idea out into something tangible is a bizarre sensation, to say the least. For most of this build, I have been trusting my gut; I’ve made some measurement errors along the way. This whole process has been the manifestation of an idea I have had since I was 18. Investing everything into an idea that may or may not work out is a scary endeavor indeed – but if you don’t try, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering…“what if”. 


The Ark, Build Out 23 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The Ark, Hands Grid | ©Monica Jane Frisell

Wolf and I started the build on December 21st, 2020. Fitting, as it was the darkest and rainiest day in Seattle – if there was a sun it set around 4:30 in the afternoon. I came to my hometown and commandeered my friend’s garage with a 7’x12’ cargo trailer – now known as The Ark. What better time to build out a trailer into a mobile darkroom and small living space than the dead of winter in the Pacific Northwest – I am brilliant!


Wolf and his Dog, Roy | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The Ark, Interior Progression 5 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

In January, 2021, we experienced the worst rain that the NW has endured in years. I wrestled with tarps and a crappy $79 Amazon tent through a windstorm at 1:30AM – my unsuspecting roommates helping me attempt to secure everything as the sky kept flashing green from transformers blowing all over the neighborhood. We tied things down and I spent the rest of the night staring out the window as the tarp tugged and pulled at the trailer. With every gust, my heart would sink deeper into the pit of my stomach, I was convinced my entire life was about to be blown away in a 15 second blast of wind. It was at this point when it sank in – I have committed to this, and there is no turning back now.


The Ark, Build Out 25 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The Ark, Build Out 22 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

Whenever a project becomes difficult, I find myself rushing for the nearest exit. Failure, in its many forms, is the biggest fear I have, ever since I was a child. I remember trying to build out a go-kart with my father for an after-school program, and on the last day, when we were all going to share our karts, I refused to enter the classroom as I was convinced our go-kart wasn’t as good as the other kids. I mean I was a girl…what do I know about power tools? Failure has become my close ally; I keep failing, I keep trying…and I keep going.


The Ark, Roof 3 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The Ark, Build Out 31 | ©Monica Jane Frisell

So I am; done building this Ark. This trailer is an art-making machine, it will allow me to have my studio with me no matter where I am. I don’t live anywhere anymore; my stuff has dwindled away, and the negatives are piling up. My journey will be weird, and I cannot predict what I will see or who I will meet, but I am excited to share it. I am excited to see what can happen when I have all I own on the hitch of my truck, and can stop anywhere I want and process film at any time. I can make whatever might come to my mind and to my heart. I am excited to throw my being into this…and maybe fall short.


The Ark | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The best thing I have been told as of late; if you have to redo something, take it apart with confidence.


Self-Portrait with Lucy | ©Monica Jane Frisell

Follow Monica’s travels with The Ark and see more images of it on Instagram at @nomadicphotoark


Monica Jane Frisell, originally from Seattle, WA, first found photography in high school where she spent most of her time in the darkroom. Since then she has traveled extensively across the United States, and beyond, photographing people and places. Her approach to photography is tied to a deep dedication to analog practices, fine art, and anthropological documentary. She sometimes says she is a “collector of faces”. Her work can be found online on her Instagram or her website.