Julie Blackmon’s Family-Filled Photographs Merge Fantasy and Autobiography

Karen Kedmey
Nov 21, 2014 3:42PM

In Julie Blackmon’s carefully staged photographs, children abound. They sprawl languidly on couches; they fill porches and backyards with their toys and game playing; they frolic on sidewalks and in the street; and they share the room with adults, wrapped up in their own world—all the while posing knowingly for Blackmon’s camera. Three of these children are the photographer’s own, the rest are nieces and nephews, belonging to her eight siblings. In her art and her life, she revels in a home filled with family and children, capturing and celebrating its boisterous warmth, universality, and timelessness in rich photographs inspired by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish genre paintings. In her words: “I am the oldest of nine children and now the mother of three … 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.”

Often set in her own home, Blackmon’s tableaux of contemporary suburban domesticity read as both real and fantastical, posed and chaotic, autobiographical and universal. To create a sense of harmony between these contrasts, she artfully arranges the people and objects in each of her scenes, frames them precisely with her camera, then digitally manipulates the images to achieve her desired effect. In Hamster Handbook (2014), for example, the photograph opens onto a scene of children and hamsters dotting a capacious, sunny porch, each involved in their own, individual activity. In the center of the scene sits a hamster home, pieced together with materials that mimic those of human habitations. Hardly confined to this space, the hamsters scurry about the porch, which itself serves as a kind of cage, holding the children who appear immersed and oblivious to onlookers. Uncanniness pervades this photograph, as it does in all of her images—an intentional effect, fostered by an artist who says she “believe[s] life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality: to see the mythic amidst the chaos.”

Karen Kedmey