Julie Blackmon’s exhibition of color photographs in Robert Mann’s abbreviated new gallery space is a series of intricately rendered domestic tableaus. Her digitally altered scenes of parents and children interacting within hyper-real spaces traverse the boundaries between past and present, familiar and strange. Set within gorgeously rendered rooms and sprawling suburban streets and lawns, they give the viewer access to private domains, as if intruding upon someone else’s memories. Although at first glance depicting scenes of domestic bliss, the images are infused with an impending sense of danger. A baby tossed high in the air, a child hovering on a bookshelf in a darkened library, an unattended toddler peering across the street at a bleak suburban house and children playing by a busy road enhance the sinister air. A married couple observed through their bedroom window at night suggest the lurking presence of a voyeur.
Drawing upon the paintings of the Dutch Renaissance Master Jan Steen for inspiration and weaving in autobiographical material, Blackmon revisits her childhood as the eldest of nine children and her current role as a mother of three to create a landmine of visual innuendo. Her fictionalized subjects range from crying babies to children of various ages and ambivalent-looking parents in various stages of humor, chaos and emotional distress. Rooms embellished with tapestry wallpaper and near 3-D window views coupled with vaguely threatening outdoor scenes make the viewer feel as if they are stepping onto a stage on which anything could occur. The tension between the visually pleasing suburban atmosphere and undercurrents of malaise gives the series its driving force.
Stitching together multiple views of her offspring and relatives, Blackmon combines Sally Mann’s obsession with children as small adults and Dorothea Tanning’s eye for suggestive atmospheric detail to explore the inner workings of the human psyche. Revealing the shifting balance of power between siblings and between parent and child, Blackmon explores the role of early physical and emotional environments upon the perception of self. Named ‘Emerging Photographer of 2008’ by American Photo, she stands out within the increasingly crowded field of staged photographic narratives by Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Bill Henson and Erwin Olaf by putting forth a complex and distinctly personal vision of the endless process of growing up.
-- Kirsten Berngtson-Lykoudis
Images: Baby Toss, 2009; Archival pigment print; Night Windows, 2008, Archival pigment print. Courtesy Robert Mann Gallery, New York.