The Ark-The First Two Months: by Monica Jane Frisell

Monica, Adam and Lucy in front of The Ark | ©Monica Jane Frisell

Photographer and Artist, Monica Jane Frisell dropped in recently to update Esthetic Lens about the progress she has made with “The Ark”. Monica is living out a wild idea that she’s had since she was a teenager. She’s currently steering a fully mobile and totally functional black and white analog darkroom through the Pacific Northwest with her partner, Adam, and her dog, Lucy. Her plan is to travel the continental United States in a fully contained, fully functional, photographic “home and studio”. Monica has recently published a second volume of her zine, Dispatches From A Day as well as launching her Patreon page.


The months have flown by faster than I could have planned. I’ve already missed my personal deadline of having an entire volume of portraits and transcribed interviews conducted from the Ark. (Insert face into palm emoji here). 

Originally, moving into the Ark was going to be a solo endeavor. But those plans changed, as things do, and I am now learning to live in a 5 foot by 6 foot space with my partner Adam. The space was already tight for one, but now add a 6ft tall slightly clumsy man into the equation, and all I can think about is that scene from the Marx Brothers, Night at the Opera. “2 Hard Boiled Eggs!” Coming right up.


The kitchen / office area in the Ark, before and now | ©Monica Jane Frisell

The Marx Brothers – A Night At The Opera, 1935

Darkroom before and after
The darkroom in the Ark, before and now | ©Monica Jane Frisell

My intentions with the Ark keep changing. I am learning to process film and print in the new space. I am learning to create a workflow, where I need to fully change my kitchen into a film scanning desk and back again before dinner. All the while, trying to figure out where to store my clothes so I don’t keep losing my shorts. 


An Evening In The Ark | Video by ©Monica Jane Frisell

We leave for the state of Oregon in two weeks. We have been in Birch Bay, WA in an old RV park for the better part of the last 2 months. Long enough to get involved with some local dramas, but short enough to still be able to laugh at the man who mows the 12ft by 6ft patchy lawn every day next to our site. Dave, the maintenance guy, (not the Dave whose portrait is below) is always keeping an eye on our stuff, letting us know who to keep away from and who “talks too much”. 


Dave, our neighbor at Birch Bay RV Resort, Birch Bay, WA | Shot on 8×10 on a Retro 320 film that I find too soft and too unpredictable for future shoots | ©Monica Jane Frisell

These last two weeks, I have started to make portraits again. Finally. My process is evening out, and not every sheet of film is coming out scratched or bent. We’ve hit a stride with living in a shoebox and sleeping in the back of a truck. The only thing left is to start moving.


Dory and John, our neighbors at Birch Bay RV Resort, Birch Bay, WA | ©Monica Jane Frisell

Ken and his mother live together in a 5th Wheel in Birch Bay RV Resort, Birch Bay, WA | ©Monica Jane Frisell

My partner Adam and his father Steve with their dog Noche on Whidbey Island, WA | ©Monica Jane Frisell

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


Self-Portrait on 8×10 Camera | ©Monica Jane Frisell

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.