10/15/2009 - "Images Constructed" in Black & White city paper

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"Snow Day," by Julie Blackmon. (Photo: Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago.) (click for larger version)  

October 15, 2009

Among the stunning and bizarre photographs in Images Constructed, the current show at Jennifer Hunt Gallery, two series by New York-based artist Lori Nix and Springfield, Missouri-based artist Julie Blackmon really stand out. The exhibit focuses on the line between authenticity and illusion, and how photographers may deliberately shift or cross that boundary (Gregory Crewdson or Cindy Sherman come to mind).

Lori Nix has firmly established a nationwide reputation for her intricate and quite convincing miniature dioramas, of which she shoots a single image with an 8x10 camera. Some of her diorama illusions are fanciful and playful, betraying a wicked sense of humor. However, in capturing "scenes" of landscapes or structures abandoned after natural disasters, Nix can fool even the most astute eye. If you weren't told in advance that "Laundromat," for example, is not a shot of a post-Katrina washateria, you would never know that the scene was a tabletop model. All of Nix's images derive from entirely fabricated landscapes, which are dismantled and disposed of after the photograph is taken. The only existing record of the illusion process is the illusion itself.

Julie Blackmon is working in the opposite direction. Her photos of the real world are expressly designed to convey the imaginative or the surreal. Blackmon's Domestic Vacations, a series of household scenes intricately choreographed in the oddest ways imaginable, conveys the chaos of day care centers, rooms full of children, and kids at the dinner table or at play. Each is staged and lit to manifest a surreal, often disturbing visual diary of a mad housewife (this mother of three grew up with eight siblings), making a strong case against the idea of raising—or even going near—a house full of kids. Imagine how David Lynch or photographer David LaChapelle might document a toddler's birthday party, and you have some idea of Blackmon's remarkable commentary on America's child-centered culture.

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"Vacuum Showroom," by Lori Nix. (click for larger version)  

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