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Julie Blackmon’s Surreal Photographs of Contemporary American Life

Julie Blackmon’s Surreal Photographs of Contemporary American Life

Photographer Julie Blackmon’s rich, satirical tapestries of suburban American life take on a new layer of significance during the global pandemic.

As a result of directives from the authorities in each country, most exhibitions are suspended, postponed or cancelled. We decided to publish the articles about them anyway, especially when we could see them before they closed. For more information on our editorial line during this period, you can read our editorial here.

Night Movie, 2011 © Julie Blackmon. Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery.

When the body is fighting infection, our immune system goes to war, turning up the heat quite literally to try to stop temperature-sensitive pathogens from further ravaging us. The result is a fever, which is known to produce hallucinatory, nightmarish dreams that evoke the sensation of watching a sci-fi film, and can be recalled in minute detail, turning the familiar and mundane into something of a horror show. 

For American photographer Julie Blackmon, fever dreams are the perfect metaphor to explore the underlying pathos that haunts contemporary American life. Hailing from Springfield, Missouri, where she continues to live and work, Blackmon uses what she describes as “the generic American town” as a backdrop for her exquisite satirical portraits of the nation’s heartland. 

In the intimate new exhibition, Fever Dreams at Fotografiska New York, Blackmon creates an immersive experience that sweeps us away from the reality of waking life and envelopes us in a realm that alternately lulls and jars us with bewitching scenes of suburban life. Fourteen large-scale prints are hung in two small rooms on matte black walls. A thick rug of artificial grass crunches delicately under your feet as the sound of kids splashing in a pool is softly piped in on speakers overhead. Just outside the gallery is an open room in the museum where children are invited to draw on the walls; their cries of joy adding to the mood, while a few wander freely through Fever Dreams, adding an unexpected sense of the fantastical to Blackmon’s work. 

Ezra, 2019 © Julie Blackmon. Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery.

Life Follows Art

Blackmon stages her photographs as a film or theater director would, then allows kids to run wild to create an unscripted narrative. Her works, Inspired by the chaos of growing up in a big family, and her role as a mother and photographer today, underscore the pleasures and hazards of pure, unfettered freedom. Each photograph is its own intimate tableau, a wordless narrative that invites us to connect the dots just as our dreams so often do. Perhaps what is most eerie about the exhibition is the way life follows art. 

Here, adults are absent, while children frolic about, suggesting a potential for danger that is all too well adapted for the time in which we now live. Prior to the global pandemic, one might feel something terrible could befall the children romping unsupervised through their world, but it light of the generational implications of COVID-19, we may wonder if the adults have been forced into quarantine and suffering the ravages of fever dreams. The empty garage featured in Trapped, with its discarded “Clinton Kaine” lawn sign, suddenly feels all too uncanny, as do the letters “K C U F” traced in dirt on the windows — the silent cry of a person we will never see.

Trapped, 2017 © Julie Blackmon. Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery.
Weeds, 2017 © Julie Blackmon. Courtesy the artist and Robert Mann Gallery.

By Miss Rosen

Julie Blackmon: Fever Dreams

Fotografiska New York is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak; however, Julie Blackmon’s exhibition, Fever Dreams, will be on view when it reopens in the near future.

Fotografiska New York, 281 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10010, USA

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