All beautifully composed, the horizontal of the field, then the picnic basket, pram and car. Oops, the baby is bawling, “is that a gun you’ve got Billy!” It’s a day in the life of Julia Blackmon, Homegrown at the Photographer’s Gallery
Julie Blackmon at The Photographers’ Gallery London. Maria Loke in The New Yorker wrote in a feature titled On and Off the Walls, that, “there is something vaguely familiar about her images—an affinity that falls somewhere between peering into the frozen tableaus of a dollhouse and logging into the Childhood stage of The Sims.”
While my personal favourite is from Nicola Rae in Faded and Blurred magazine, “If you brought David Lynch along as the activities director on your family vacation or asked him over to art direct your holiday postcards, you might get something similar to the photography of Julie Blackmon.”
You can gauge from the comments that Blackmon creates powerfully mythic work on familiar family spaces – the domestic hallucinations of a woman juggling work and family, the cultural baggage of motherhood and the reality of a working life, and the personal, social, and emotional expectations surrounding it. Somehow Blackmon extracts from this chaos a very singular vision. It’s where the cinematic meets the suburban, the epic meets the domestic, the authoritative parental eye folds into the vision of the child.
The current show Homegrown in on show downstairs in the Print Room at the Photographer’s Gallery. It is the perfect space for what Blackmon is doing, a little bit emotionally confined, claustrophobic a photographic vision seeking to escape through a playfulness that sits on the threshold between pure creative freedom and the day in the life of a Mum that just went a bit Edgar Allen Poe.
Blackmon writes on her website of being a mother, “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…”
Probably the image “Take-Off”, the skewed perspective, the scrawny pilot, the spectators on the window sill, the sharp-intake of breath, the photograph visibly inhales just before the astronaut in underpants gets ready to launch. Heroic and mock-heroic, triumphant and comical, heaven and hell, in each of Blackmon’s photographs, her eye maps the dynamic emotional vectors of family life.
Visually, Blackmon herself refers to the influence of 17th century Dutch painter Jan Steen whose work proved so resonant the phrase ‘a Jan Steen household’ became a reference point for family life – “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.” Blackmon has carved her own groove on the kitchen table of life – Gregory Crewdson meets the Rugrats.
Art Meets Commerce
The dutiful but harrassed parent has become such a lovable trope in advertising (think the recent Volkswagen Tiguan ad, the Dad who misses the goal in the football match because he’s waiting for his son outside the toilet). Blackmon’s work is just on the other side of this, the chaos spilling out but what stops it being a mess is the rapturous detail of the chaos, such as in “Garage Sale”.
Question for the Artist
Less a question, more an observation. With your sense of narrative, tone and the complications of domestic life, you need to invent the children’s illustrated book for adults – through photography.
Homegrown runs until October 26 at The Photographers’ Gallery