Photographer Julie Blackmon’s work focuses on the complexities and contradictions of modern life. It explores, among other subjects, the overwhelming, often conflicting expectations and obligations of contemporary parenthood. Her busy, imaginary narratives walk a darkly humorous line between lighthearted Americana and the chaos and occasional darkness of our daily lives. In her first book, Domestic Vacations (2008), Blackmon describes the inspiration she received when encountering the works of 17th century Dutch master Jan Steen: “The conflation of art and life is an area I explored by photographing the everyday life of my family and the lives of my sisters and their families at home.”
[Jan Steen, The Merry Family, 1668]
In recent years, Blackmon has moved beyond family matters to explore a broader picture of modern life, always tethered to a narrative dynamic. Beneath the inviting surface of her images, complexity lurks: there is often a serpent in her idyllic gardens. Critic Laura Malonee notes, “At first glance, the work seems to depict an idealized America of the past, but upon further inspection, an unexpected darkness becomes apparent. Unsupervised children, often in dangerous situations, frolic happily about in an imperfectly perfect, sunny-macabre world…are these images an attack on the neglectful parent or an attack on the helicopter parenting of today? Blackmon pays homage to a disappearing way of life even while she questions it.”
In regards to her most recent project, “Homegrown” (2014), Blackmon says that her goal is “to show the flaws, the torn lining, the parts of life that aren’t so perfect.” Her photography is a deft mash-up of pop phenomena, consumer culture, social satire, and sly references to iconic American works of art. They are often littered with the disposable artifacts that we turn our eyes away from: potato chip bags and fast-food wrappers, discarded toys and magazines. Her unblinking eye often verges on the surreal, lending a bracing, irreverent snap to her unique world: a domain where Blue Velvet meets Norman Rockwell.