To see the mythic amidst the chaos: Julie Blackmon

Ze was de oudste van negen kinderen en heeft er zelf drie (die intussentijd het nest al verlaten hebben). Toevallig, bij een bezoek aan een New Yorkse gallerie kwam ik in contact met haar werk dat op een niet beter tijdstip als tijdens deze ophokperiode dadelijk op begrip zal kunnen rekenen al blijven vragen niet uitgesloten.
Julie Blackmon (1966, USA Springfield Missouri) gebruikt haar eigen familieleden en geburen, soms letterlijk, altijd als inspiratie om een tijdloze familiedynamiek met haar fotowerk in beeld te brengen.
Geïnspireerd door o.a. werk van de Nederlandse schilder Jan Steen (1625-1679) (nog steeds aanwezig in de uitdrukking ‘Een familie van Jan Steen, een boeltje dus!) probeert ze ook de sfeer van deze kunstenaar en collega’s genreschilders uit die zeventiende eeuw te gebruiken bij de setting van haar familie-taferelen.
Of hoe je de termen van deze tijd, ‘child centered’ en ‘self-obsessed’ met elkaar kunt verzoenen.
Ik heb voor mijn redactie verschillende auteurs aan het woord gelaten maar vooral geluisterd naar wat Julie Blackmon zelf had te vertellen.
Ik vermoed dat menig lezer de atmosfeer zal herkennen in deze verplichte familiedagen die wellicht in de herinnering misschien enig heimwee kunnen oproepen, hoe ongeloofwaardig dat nu ook mag klinken, of toch niet? (click on the sub-title to enlarge the pictures)

Pool

The Dutch proverb “a Jan Steen household” originated in the 17th century and is used today to refer to a home in disarray, full of rowdy children and boisterous family gatherings. The paintings of Steen, along with those of other Dutch and Flemish genre painters, helped inspire this body of work. I am the oldest of nine children and now the mother of three. As Steen’s personal narratives of family life depicted nearly 400 yrs. ago, the conflation of art and life is an area I have explored in photographing the everyday life of my family and the lives of my sisters and their families at home. These images are both fictional and auto-biographical, and reflect not only our lives today and as children growing up in a large family, but also move beyond the documentary to explore the fantastic elements of our everyday lives, both imagined and real.

Jan Steen (1625-1679) Een vrolijk huishouden
Garage Sale

The stress, the chaos, and the need to simultaneously escape and connect are issue that I investigate in this body of work. We live in a culture where we are both “child centered” and “self-obsessed.” The struggle between living in the moment versus escaping to another reality is intense since these two opposites strive to dominate. Caught in the swirl of soccer practices, play dates, work, and trying to find our way in our “make-over” culture, we must still create the space to find ourselves. The expectations of family life have never been more at odds with each other. These issues, as well as the relationship between the domestic landscape of the past and present, are issues I have explored in these photographs. I believe there are moments that can be found throughout any given day that bring sanctuary. It is in finding these moments amidst the stress of the everyday that my life as a mother parallels my work as an artist, and where the dynamics of family life throughout time seem remarkably unchanged. As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality: to see the mythic amidst the chaos.

The artist has also been inspired by the work of American photographer Sally Mann, whose landmark book “Immediate Family” from 1992 similarly toyed with truth and fantasy in evocative — and often controversial — scenes of her children.
Mann framed her work through Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” noting in her foreword to “Immediate Family” that “When the good pictures come, we hope they tell truths, but truths ‘told slant’…We are spinning a story of what it is to grow up.” It’s an idea that stayed with Blackmon when she was first introduced to Mann as an art major in college — though Blackmon did not pursue photography in earnest until over a decade later, when she, her husband and three children moved into a home with a basement darkroom.

Powerade
Weeds

Blackmon’s works are a deft mash-up of pop phenomena, consumer culture, social satire, and sly references to iconic American works of art. They are often littered with the disposable artifacts that we often turn our eyes away from: potato chip bags and fast-food wrappers, discarded toys and magazines. Her unblinking eye often verges on the surreal, lending a bracing, irreverent snap to her unique world, where Blue Velvet meets Norman Rockwell.

Rooster

My extended family has a “house” we’ve visited every summer since childhood that used to be an old-one room country schoolhouse. It sits alone on a scenic hilltop in southwest Missouri. When we were kids, we spent much of our summer break here. We’d run around outside most of the time we were here, but in the afternoons, when it’d get too hot to play outside, we’d go inside the schoolhouse and lounge around on the old musty furniture, under the peeling lead paint windows, and do nothing, in a “summer vacation” kind of way. Years later, when I saw the Spanish painting. The Artist’s Children, by Mariano Fortuny, I immediately thought about my summers as a child and lying around in the old schoolhouse with the green walls, and decided to do a portrait of my nieces in that same green room. I wanted to document one of those “down time” moments between the chaos that makes summer feel like summer.

(klik op sommige onderschriften voor grotere afbeelding)

the artist’s children Mariano Fortuny
Chaise’: “One of those summer memories as a kid (before iPads), where it was too hot to go outside, and you were bored, trying to think of what to do next. The quiet moments in between the chaos.”

“My favorite moments are at openings when people respond to me after seeing the work for the first time in person,” she recalled. “I remember an older lady coming up to me and saying ‘you know how to look at hard things in life in such a happy way.’ It was that simple but it meant everything.”

The power of now

Blackmon’s work abounds with tender humor but also shrewdly subtle satire. It’s no coincidence, for instance, that adults are all but absent here, and many of the situations depicted are spiked with the potential for danger — an unattended fire, bubble wrap encasing a young boy’s head, popcorn strewn on a blanket in front of crawling babies. Perhaps every play ends up being a morality play. The freedom these children enjoy is a vanishing American resource, and Blackmon is nostalgic for it, for its loose and sloppy beauty. She edits out nearly all signs of contemporary technology or commercial branding, ever more gently pushing these scenes into a vaguely idealized past. (Leah Ollman)

Stock Tank

She unabashedly plunders the image pools of popular culture and art history. A photograph in her recently published book, “Homegrown,” restages the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover with a line of kids pulling a wagon of Girl Scout cookies through the crosswalk. She conjures Balthus in the captivating “Chaise,” posing a young girl with a bared hip and disarming stare in a deliciously moody, light-drenched room. In other pictures, she quotes the painter directly, lifting characters from his street scenes and depositing them into her own compressed, constructed universe, a rich, gray area at the intersection of nature and artifice, the sensual and the sanitized, innocence and experience. (Leah Ollman)

Thin Mints

Critic Laura Malonee notes, “At first glance, the work seems to depict an idealized America of the past, but upon further inspection, an unexpected darkness becomes apparent. Unsupervised children, often in dangerous situations, frolic happily about in an imperfectly perfect, sunny-macabre world…are these images an attack on the neglectful parent or an attack on the helicopter parenting of today? Blackmon pays homage to a disappearing way of life even while she questions it.”

Night Movie: “The idea for Night Movie came to me when we were actually watching a movie outside with a projector set up. About every five seconds, one of the kids would get up to go get some more popcorn or a snack, and they’d block the screen with their silhouette.
I remember thinking the way their little frames looked on the screen was way more interesting than the actual movie. And the idea of the movie screen mimicking life itself was also something I was thinking about.”

Julie Blackmon doesn’t need to travel far to find inspiration for her staged depictions of the somewhat dark and humorous chaos of family life. The eldest of nine children, with three of her own, Blackmon has lived in the same Springfield, Mo., neighborhood all her life and often uses family and friends to capture what she calls a “fantastical look at everyday life.” At first glance, the images seem idyllic, like modern-day Norman Rockwell paintings. Yet underneath, there is something slightly askew — details just a little bit off that both highlight and satirize the conflicting expectations of parenting.

Midwest Materials
‘Homegrown food’

This little market, Homegrown Food, in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri, is one of the first “organic” groceries to appear in our Midwestern town and is evidence of the rebirth of the small neighborhood grocery store that has taken hold nationwide. It is one of the many signs of our changing landscape, and the new state of health consciousness that has emerged in our country. But conflicting messages still abound in regard to the health conscious and the hip, and so I decided to have fun with this idea when I saw one of the workers outside smoking one day. The setting … with it’s striped awning, and the various figures and angles, and the construction workers nearby, reminded me of Balthus’ famous painting “The Street,” and so I decided to reference it as a way of enhancing or exaggerating the scene.

Balthus, The street 1933
‘Hair’: “Brushing out your hair after sleeping in braids. Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s photograph from 1863 ‘It Won’t Come Smooth.’

It’s this imperfectly perfect, sunny-macabre world that the children in Blackmon’s photographs must navigate, largely on their own. They roam about unsupervised, exploring homes, yards, and neighborhoods. When adults appear, we see only glimpses — a leg slathered in tanning lotion, a hand wielding a mascara wand. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, the photographs can be interpreted as either an attack on the neglectful guardian or an exaggerated protest against helicopter parenting. Whatever her intention, Blackmon provokes through hyperbole, often placing her young characters in precarious, potentially dangerous situations — a theme she began exploring long before Moonrise Kingdom brought it to the silver screen.

New Baby

“It’s a very child-centric culture, and you’ve got to not let that guilt you into being the perfect mommy, teaching your kids French. They have their whole lives to do all that stuff,” she said, pointing to the trendy mommy blogs and hipster homeschooling described by New York Magazine’s “The Feminist Housewife” — a cover article for which she shot the image. For women who stay home, it’s all the more important to carve out space to pursue their work and to vigilantly defend their time to do so.” (Laura Mallonee Hyperallergic)

Waiting Room

Blackmon doesn’t denigrate those who put their work on hold, though, as she did so herself. “That’s such an important time, when you have those babies and you’re totally invested in them,” she remembered. “You just want to be able to sit in the rocker and nurse and have their little hand come up and touch you. Then comes a time when they’re two or two-and-a-half when they might need a little break from you. I’m a big believer in not having too much family time.” (ibidem)

Sick Boy

The ideal of “having it all” might be achieved, she suggested, by not always having it all. “I just hate to see women trying to do everything at the same time. If you’re trying to do it all, you’re gonna make yourself crazy. You’re going to fail in every which way,” she said. “There’s gotta be something in-between, where you can still have your own thing going and not sacrifice your kids.”(ibidem)

Goggles

I think visually I am attracted to that look. But also in terms of just meaning, there’s so much in my own childhood, too, growing up in the ’70s and contrasting that to now and how we raise children today — our lives today and the nostalgia we have for that time, but also the realization that we can’t ever go back to that. So I’m torn — like you’re in love with this era long ago, but for God’s sake, we didn’t even wear seat belts back then. So there’s this whole safety thing, but we also had that freedom. And so some of that chaos with the kids and no parent in sight, is a little bit more metaphorical to me, a mental state as a mother in chaos and being overwhelmed and trying to sort it all out.

New Neighbours

I saw these girls in red dresses on my cousin’s Instagram. She captioned it, “So proud of my little women,” and she was totally serious. And I was like, oh my god, they look just like the Shining twins! I realized I had to get the girls over to my other sister’s house where I had already been thinking about her driveway strip — a setting I already had in mind. The mattress is from the ‘60s and I always keep it under a double bed upstairs. I liked that blue plaid. Overall, this photograph was a challenge because it was winter and the grass was gold tinged with green, which is not attractive. So, I had to bring in the color another way.

Fake Weather

“The idea [for ‘Fake Weather’] came about when we were only four months out from the election of Trump. It was during a time where everything was about fake news, or fake something or another. I liked that phrasing and I wanted to do something with the word ‘fake.’ At the same time, I was around my nephews and nieces everyday and they were all looking forward to winter and snow days. Usually we’ll have a couple big snows a year in Missouri, but it was a winter where it was unseasonably warm and there was no indication of snow. Even in February things were blooming and green. It was obvious the snow day they all wanted was never going to happen. I was thinking about the darker side of that too which is global warming, but I was trying to take a lighthearted look at it.

https://www.julieblackmon.com/index.cfm

http://www.faheykleingallery.com/artists/julie-blackmon

Trapped
Olive & Market St.