Going Low

Telling a Story Outside the Frame

Swell series, Iceberg #2. Photo by Julianna Foster_small


Julianna Foster is currently (2015-2016) a visiting assistant professor in the photography program at the University of the Arts. Foster has been a guest lecturer at Rowan University and Temple University and has sat on Fulbright and Graduate Thesis Committees at UArts. She received a BFA in Design from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2001) and an MFA in book arts and printmaking from the University of the Arts (2006). Foster was an artist member of Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia from 2006 to 2013. Solo exhibitions in Philadelphia include Philadelphia Art Alliance, Painted Bride Art Center, Fleisher Art Memorial (2013 Wind Challenge recipient), and Gravy Studio and Gallery. View Julianna’s full bio here.

-Amanda V. Wagner, co-founder

For years I have kept a snapshot of my mother, my older sister, and me in a square yellow frame. It was taken in the early 80’s on a mountain in North Carolina. I don’t recall that day at all, but my mother told me that it was a very windy day. We picnicked on a bench near where the photograph was taken. Whenever I look at this image, I envision what it was like on the mountain that day. I have (re)created a memory that can only exist in the periphery of the image, outside the margins of the photograph.

Maybe it’s longing. Maybe it’s compensating for loss. But for me the photograph is never only about the thing photographed. I imagine what is unseen, not necessarily what the photograph itself describes, and I want to tell that story. There is life in the peripheral, there is history in the margins.

Mary Todd Lincoln and her famous husband

It is well documented that for more than a century after its birth, photography, with a few exceptions like spirit photography (a sensational example of which is the portrait of Mary Todd with Lincoln’s ghost), was assumed to be authentic: because of the immediacy of the photographic process, it was believed to be a veracious account of whatever the camera lens was pointed toward. Photography, more so than any other medium, has been used to document—in the strictest definition of that word—cultural history. The power that a photograph can possess is immeasurable, and is crucial to understanding the world around us.

My interest in photography was piqued when I discovered artists challenging these traditions. While researching cinema and its influences on photography (Jean Luc Godard, Wim Wenders, Chantal Akerman), I was introduced to artists using the medium in a more directorial manner: “making as opposed to taking,” creating instead of capturing what already exists which became prevalent in the 1970’s and work by artists such as Theresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler, Uta Barth, Sophie Calle and James Casebere, to name a few, were highly influential. This cinematic mode appealed to my desire to create invented narratives, opened doors for me to explore the medium in a new way, and ultimately led to a sequential way of thinking that resulted in me making books, videos, and photographic series.

once, you were an island, 2 photo by Julianna Foster
once, you were an island, 2

Over the last few years my work has veered towards objects that I have hand built on a tabletop scale in my home studio and then digitally combine with subjects I photograph that can be found in the world, particularly landscapes and seascapes. Although the impetus for the imagery derives from an existing narrative, the use of characters and plot are less relevant than they have been in the past and ideas relate as a series instead of a sequence of events.

once, you were an island, 3 photo by Julianna Foster
once, you were an island, 3

The studio environment has allowed me to consider subject matter and narrative structure in more of an illusionist, metaphorical space. While the photograph continues to be a representation of the thing photographed, the thing photographed is now a fabricated reproduction of what could be out in the world. An example of this in some of my recent work is a smoke machine simulating clouds, white styrofoam carved to resemble an iceberg, a dilapidated dollhouse damaged by floods and overgrown vegetation. All of these I build by hand, photograph, and then combine digitally with my own archived images.

Swell series, Iceberg #2. Photo by Julianna Foster
Swell series, Iceberg #2

One of the reasons for this change may be that I now have two small children. Photographing in my home studio became more of a necessity, opposed to scheduling models, scouting locations, and organizing shoots. While the work has increasingly moved away from sequential imagery based on a directorial, cinematic linear narrative the photograph remains constructed in terms of its fabricated stories, whereas each image can be read/viewed as a singular experience.

once, you were an island, 1 photo by Julianna Foster
once, you were an island, 1

The series Swell started with a story I read in a newspaper years ago of an eye witness account of the aftermath of a nor’easter in a small town on the Atlantic coast. This evolved into a retelling of events, based on what I imagined the witness experienced in the aftermath of the storm. Similarly, the series once, you were an island originated from a story told by a friend about the the demise of a woman who comes to the midwest to reunite with her married lover. The media picks up her story and embellishes or misconstrues it to the point where legend and truth are intermingled. Through my process of creating images in response to these narratives, the intention is not to illustrate, faithfully reconstruct or document the story, but to interpret and embellish, taking liberties with their account of events, allowing fact and fiction to intertwine. Maybe in the same way I do with the snapshot of my family in that square yellow frame, insert what I imagine exists on the periphery or margins of these stories. The camera captures a moment in time, yet the story of that day isn’t explained in what is visible, but in what is imagined, the life outside of the frame. The existence of the photograph proves this moment did occur, there is evidence the three of us stood on the mountain that day together, arm in arm. What happened next is up to you to decide. The power of a photograph is immeasurable.

All images courtesy of Julianna Foster.

 

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