In the photographs of Julie Blackmon, her quiet neighborhood of Springfield, Missouri, turns into a theatrical scene where children reign. They congregate by the pool during the mild summer; direct talent shows in the garage; and prepare to take off from the kitchen chairs, leaving toys and household ephemera scattered. Adults, when they appear, are often cut out of the picture, obscured like the unintelligible adults in the world of Charlie Brown.
The artist has lived in Springfield all of his life, calling his hometown in the Ozarks region a “generic American city.”
Blackmon’s next show at Fotografiska, “Fever Dreams”, plays on fiction and reality.
Through his lens, Springfield becomes a setting of magic, chaos and discovery.
In her work, the photographer is inspired by Dutch genre paintings from the 17th century, where the house could become a framework for both calm everyday moments and rude behavior, carefully staged with symbolic details and elegant light. . “Chaos and humor seem contemporary in some ways,” she said in a telephone interview from her home.
“Tell the whole truth, but tell it sideways”
Mann framed his work through Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell the whole truth but tell it sideways”, noting in his preface to “Immediate Family” that “When the good pictures come, we hope they say truths, but the so-called “oblique” truths. We’re spinning a story of what it’s like to grow up. that Blackmon hadn’t seriously pursued photography until more than a decade later, when she, her husband, and three children moved into a house with a darkroom in the basement.
“Night Movie” (2011) by Julie Blackmon
Credit: Julie Blackmon / courtesy of artist and Robert Mann Gallery
Blackmon may be influenced by her own education – she grew up in a family of nine with a mother who encouraged them to run free – but her work is not autobiographical. “I don’t really want work to be just about my life,” she said. “(But) even if the images are fictitious, what I have to extract from them is endless.
“Many people assume that there is not much here in a generic city with a generic name in Central America, but I found that it was not,” she said. added.
When Blackmon started filming, she started with portraits of her children, but today her practice has evolved into more complex compositions born of her imagination. Her children have grown up and have left home, so she asks the children of her large extended family or the neighborhood to play the subjects of her work, drawing on the charm of her hometown to bring stories to life.
Installation view “Julie Blackmon: Fever Dreams” at Fotografiska New York, 2020. Credit: Julie Blackmon / courtesy Fotografiska New York
In her recent image, “New Neighbors”, two young sisters stand side by side in matching red dresses with white collars and black bows, evoking the disturbing twins of Stanley Kubrick from “The Shining”.
They compete across the aisle with a small child on a tricycle, who stopped in his tracks in their presence. Blackmon will often start with details – like the girls in their matching dresses – and then build the scene from there.
“Sometimes it is the unexpected moments that are the best and sometimes the moments you dream of,” she said. “There is no real formula for getting a song that resonates with people.”
“New Neighbors” (2020) by Julie Blackmon Credit: Julie Blackmon / courtesy of artist and Robert Mann Gallery
While the United States and many countries around the world practice social distance and people remain largely confined to their homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Blackmon has looked at his work from a new angle.
“One of the things that inspired me when I started (photographing) when my children were young was this conflicting desire to connect and disconnect,” she said.
The need for time alone in tight quarters can be seen in his photograph “Power of Now”, where each family member in the yard performs their actions several feet apart, or in “Birds at Home”, taken during a containment period during a heavy ice storm.
“Power of Now” (2008) Credit: Julie Blackmon / courtesy of artist and Robert Mann Gallery
But Blackmon’s work is not just about the lives of brave and rowdy children and parents who need to find balance; it is also “a metaphor for being overwhelmed,” she said.
“At any age, we try to live this delicious life and enjoy everything around us,” she added, but chaos can ensue, or the lingering feeling that something could go wrong.
Blackmon’s themes are universal – the desire to manage one’s life and the impossibility of doing so.
“Even though everything is wonderful, I feel like I am out of control,” she said. “Maybe this work is a way to make sense of it.”