Off Center

Popular Photography|January 2017

Off Center

Julie Blackmon layers images to bring out the odd truths of life behind the white picket fence

Meg Ryan

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Springfield, Missouri, is a city of about 160,000 about 100 miles southeast of the geographic center of the United States. Its population is about 89 percent white, 96 percent U.S.-born, and 51.5 percent female. Although Julie Blackmon was born in this Springfield (in 1966, the oldest of nine children) and she still lives and works there, her pictures depict a through-the-looking-glass version of the place.

Layering together multiple photographs to create surprising and haunting tableaux, Blackmon stretches the fabric of the mundane until you can see the chaos, absurdity, and just-plain-weird that lurks beneath. In one image, “New Chair” (page 89), a jarringly modernist living room object erupts from a perfectly banal FedEx truck like Harold Hill showing up in River City. To those witnessing the delivery, the shiny new distraction is all that matters, while life inside the photo continues as normal, and no one seems to notice the kid who’s stuck his head in the bubble wrap.

“I know I’m very much defined as the ‘family’ photographer, but I don’t think of it quite this way,” she says in an email. “I’m just looking around at my everyday life and, like any artist, trying to make sense of it.” It just so happens that family life is chock full of material to photograph, and, for many viewers, happens to also be pretty relatable.

Blackmon’s perspective seems to come straight from the fact that she is making work about the place where she herself grew up; her own memories inform the way she illustrates the present. Reflecting on her own experience, she says: “I think we have never had more nostalgia for the past—the days we didn’t wear helmets to ride a tricycle, or where we climbed 50-foot trees without our parents giving it a second thought. I think about this a lot. This is where I find the narrative and the humor.”

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January 2017