When I first saw Julie Blackmon’s “Girl Across the Street,” a photo of a little boy staring out the window at a little girl, I was transported back to my cousin Chris’s house in Pittsburgh, circa 1962. I knew that I had to see more of Blackmon’s spare, humorous creations. Luckily, there are 44 more like it in her wonderful new book, Homegrown.
Blackmon presents us with the timelessness of family dynamics in photos that look decades old, but are current. She makes us feel nostalgic about the past without idealizing it. She positions children in fantastical yet plausible situations. Every subject, every headless doll, is expertly placed.
Here are some of my favorites: In “Rooster,” a little girl hugs a big rooster in an empty room, her plastic farm set arrayed on the wooden floor, a brown UPS van visible through a curtained window. In “Airstream,” a little girl in a polka-dot swimsuit makes a face as an adult – only the hand shows in the frame – sprays bug spray all over her. A shiny silver trailer is visible in the background, with two children peering out of its window.
Blackmon usually uses family members or “whoever is around” as subjects. Her neighborhood in Missouri is her set. The few adults present are mostly anonymous – their faces hidden behind a magazine or their heads cropped out of the image.
At first I was simply amused by the photos. But if you live with them a while, you start to feel an edge in the work. There is tension in the disarray of everyday life. How does Blackmon manage to convey reality despite the fact that all the work is staged? How does she get candid expressions from her tiny subjects?
The answer: talent. I am a big fan.
Melanie Stetson Freeman is a Monitor staff photographer.