We had the good fortune of connecting with Jessica Chortkoff and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jessica, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I have always been a visual artist and an actor. Art is pretty much all I can focus on. It has cost me a few relationships with some people who might not get artists. But as I got older I realize I don’t have to, and can’t change who I am for anyone else. I have a wonderful partner who loves all the things I love and have love and peace at home. That is the most important thing to have. If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, run!
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The Chortkoff family has a long history of amazing, hard working, charismatic and highly talented people. My father was a blues harp player who started his own record label. Music has always been very special to me, and I mainly shoot photos of musicians. I started to play harmonica seriously after my dad died 7 years ago to this day. I actually think my dad got some of his music and story telling genes from his own dad, my grandfather Ben Chortkoff. Both he and his dad took thousands of photos. they felt a burning impulse to capture everything. I inherited the photos but also the drive from both of them.
Ben was a carpet layer by trade, but he loved jazz. He also loved taking photos. While fighting in WW2 he got to see and take photos of Louis Armstrong and became very good friends with his band members and family for many years. They regularly came over to the Chortkoff’s house for dinner, to jam, and they even went on vacation together. My dad’s favorite photo of himself as a child shows him at 7 or 8 years old holding his ears next to a trumpeting Louis Armstrong! I continue the music tradition by participating on harmonica with my partner of 6 years, the impossibly talented Rich Riggio.
The pandemic has put a damper on playing his music out and my photography of musicians as one might imagine. I hope to get back to work soon. We both have been working feverishly throughout the pandemic on several albums and Youtube shows. We are both equally obsessed with ancestors and all our projects seem to come back to that theme.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I think I would take them to Grand Central Market in downtown LA or to the Farmers Market in West Hollywood. Both these places have wonderful places to sit down and eat, but also places to buy ingredients to make our own meals. I am a pescatarian who mostly eats fruits and veggies. After that I would take them to Escondido Falls, Coral Canyon, or Solstice Canyon in Malibu. All these locations have significant historic value for us Angelenos. Then we would go east to Angeles National Forest to see some old mines, train tunnels, and observatories. I am a bit of an urban explorer but not the dangerous kind. I really dig history. Things that have been here forever or sites where amazing things had once stood. And I would take photos, soooo many photos! There is a wonderful story in every inch of this city. I know most of them. My dad was born in LA and grew up in Hollywood, and my grandmother before him. And of course we would have to go to the beach! But also we could hang out here in Studio City and swim in the building’s pool. Maybe afterwards play them some videos of show my old vintage slides. Good times are easy to make anywhere. There would be much music and much jamming.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My boyfriend and life partner, Rich Riggio. He is a singer, song-writer, composer, guitarist, keyboardist, poet and inventor. I think the world would be a much better place with his creations in it more.
Photo by Jessica Chortkoff