“Homegrown”

by Julie Blackmon

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Julie Blackmon: “Homegrown”
(Radius Books)

Julie Blackmon’s “Homegrown” is the strangest family photo album ever-pretty much literally. Blackmon lives in Springfield, MO, walking distance from the home where she grew up, where for at least a decade she’s been photographing the extended family of her children, her siblings and closest friends, and all their kids, too. Although clearly very smartly organized if not entirely staged, her domestic, mostly outdoor scenes are crafted with a casual deliberation that mimics a cinematic compositional structure channeling historical genre painting. This approach is enlivened by expertly strewn and believably arranged objects of entropic playrooms and backyards. Unsupervised children cause adorable menace in the name of entertainment; messes are made, candy wrappers are discarded, furniture is destroyed, faces are made grimy, small fires are started, curfews are broken, younger sisters are tormented, dolls are beheaded, knees are scraped. Across the 45 works in the book, taken during 2009-2014, are scenes ranging from the chillingly noir to the hilariously out of control, all of which tweak familiarity just enough to subvert expectations, without disrupting what reality of the moment there is. Stylistically her influences and references range from Balthus to Rockwell, Sally Mann to David Lynch, Wyeth, Crewdson, and Arbus. As she uses her own family she is strongly tethered to vérité; there is an endemic personal narrative extending back in time to her own childhood, and forward as she witnesses the next generation slouching toward adulthoods of their own. Yet actual adults are nowhere to be found. She is drawn to the peculiar qualities of leisure time, which is to say those moments of languid surrealism where imagination battles boredom for control of yet another muggy summer afternoon in the heartland. The overall feel is a kind of Fred Segal feral, in which Blackmon’s taste for luxurious pigment, expressive lighting, and her painter’s appreciation for nuances of color are lavished upon the dark, or at least vaguely unpleasant, reality of parenting, American style. -SND