From Rural Life With Love: A Look at Jack Spencer’s Painterly Photographs
Mississippi-born Jack Spencer is a self-taught photographer known for his stark but breathtaking images of rural life in the American South and West, as well as Mexico. His photos are generally dark, sometimes almost haunted looking, as each scene or portrait is made to look old, as if a patina has developed on its surface. This is not by accident; in the darkroom, Spencer often manipulates his images by painting or adding mixed media glazes on top of the photograph. The end result looks something like a hazy dream. Spencer’s aesthetic could be likened to the magical realist writers Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez, whose writing inspires his images.
“All of my various bodies of work are simply about my own curiosity,” Spencer said in an interview with Nashville Arts Magazine. “It is the documenting of things that interests me … sort of like a life’s journal.” His work is indeed like a daily image diary, often showing simple but powerful moments. His Snow Ponies, Truchas, New Mexico (2006) features two white ponies that appear to be gray against the luminous snow. One pony is nearly cropped out of the photo in the foreground while the other almost hovers as a blurred image in the background, creating a dream-like scene with intriguing depth and contrast. Ring Around the Sun, Badlands, South Dakota (2007) is a dark landscape, featuring an endless plain illuminated by the setting Sun. Darkness creeps in around the light areas of the photograph, and places more emphasis upon the barren ground below. Many of Spencer’s images are as much about touch as they are about subject. Often the artist will leave a trace once he’s altered a photograph, visible through his painterly quality. “If one intends with the honesty of self-expression, then the result will be worth looking at, no matter how primitive or how sophisticated the means of accomplishment.”