Reviewing the photographs of Julie Blackmon, critic Leah Ollman of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “Each frame is an absorbing, meticulously orchestrated slice of ethnographic theater … that abounds with tender humor but also shrewdly subtle satire.”
Blackmon is a native of Springfield, MO, and her photographs are inspired by her experience of growing up the oldest of nine children—including five sisters—in what she calls “a generic American town in the middle of the U.S.”
In college, Blackmon was introduced to the work of artists Sally Mann, Diane Arbus, and Helen Levitt, and she describes herself as “obsessed” with their images. “When my three children were small,” she recalls, “we moved into an old house with a darkroom in the basement. Like any mother, I wanted to take pictures of my kids. But I didn’t want to be just the ‘mother photographer.’ I wanted my work to be more: more penetrating, more artful, more striking, more thoughtful, more a reflection of the times."
“Over the next few years, I progressed from making documentary black and white photographs of my life and the lives of my sisters to creating colorful, fictitious images that offered a more fantastical look at everyday life. My work became more conceptual, as I began to realize that I was not obligated to capture “reality” exactly, but that I could work more like a painter or a filmmaker, actively shaping the images I was creating. This realization—that fiction can often capture the truth more memorably than reality—was a major shift in how I saw the world around me, and it transformed my work.”
“It’s thrilling to see the most common aspects of everyday life as potential stories or themes for a photograph. It changes how you see things: suddenly, a Starbucks employee on a smoke break, or an outmoded beauty shop catering to an elderly clientele, can spark a memorable image. As Nora Ephron once said: ‘Everything is copy.’ At the same time, my photographs began to reveal themselves as capable of functioning in a much wider variety of ways: as social satire, as commentary on American politics and culture, and as critiques of human behavior."
“The subjects I choose to explore haven’t changed much: my nieces and nephews still act as my personal troupe of players as I explore the lives of children. Their lack of artifice brings welcome surprise and improvisation to my scenes. And I remain interested in the nature of neighborhoods and communities, and in the joys and sorrows of family life. But the eye behind the lens has changed: more and more, I am using my images as social commentary, from tackling global warming in my 2017 piece “Fake Weather” to capturing Covid anxiety in 2020’s “Bubble”. Someone once described my work as ‘One part Norman Rockwell and one part Norman Bates.’ I’ll take that!”
Blackmon’s photographs are in many permanent collections, including The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH; Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; George Eastman House, Rochester, NY; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; JP Morgan Chase Art Collection; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO;; Microsoft Art Collection, Redmond, WA; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, IL; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC; Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, WA; Sioux City Art Center, Sioux City, IA; University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Ark; The West Collection, Oaks, PA; and Walt Disney Corporation. Her work has been included in exhibitions at the Fotografiska Museum in New York City; Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, NY; Houston Center of Photography, Houston, TX; the Hood Museum of Art in Dartmouth, N.H., and many other institutions.