Jana Harper | You Call It A Cloud

“You call it a cloud and I call it a spaceship. So I think we’re talking about the same thing.”
Joie Bourisseau

“Clouds mount, mass, tower, or darken. They provide a barometer of feeling.”
Mary Jacobus


From 2000 to 2003 my mother, Joie Bourisseau, lived in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Crestone, Colorado. During this period of her life she took thousands of photographs of clouds. I visited her during those years and helped her catalog the images. In 2003 she left Crestone abruptly. She abandoned most of her belongings, including her entire photographic archive, keeping only a few of her favorite pictures. She spent the next few years living in and out of homeless shelters and eventually received the diagnosis of Bipolar I.

Visible yet ungraspable, clouds have always captured the human imagination. Because they defy stable form, clouds call for interpretation and offer inexhaustible metaphors. 

Joie’s clouds have been on my mind for the last ten years. In the fall of 2013, I returned to the San Luis Valley near Crestone in order to interview people whose occupations keep them in close relationship to the sky. I showed them her favorite photograph and asked them to talk to me about it. I was curious how people from different occupational backgrounds would describe the same image. I spoke with pilots, flight mechanics, a meteorologist, an environmentalist, a rancher, a micro-climatologist, a historian, and a retired philosophy professor. Each of them provided a different “read” of Joie’s image, demonstrating that the truth of clouds always comes in the plural.

While staying in the valley, I attempted to locate the forgotten photographs. On the last night of my trip, I found the archive in a crawl space under a rental property. Four cardboard boxes held more than a dozen black archival storage containers, each meticulously labeled and filled with photographs, proof prints, and negatives of clouds.