Julie Blackmon photographer: photos acquired by National Gallery

Julie Blackmon photographer  (b. 1966) explores domestic life and family dynamics in her richly detailed, orchestrated pictures. The National Gallery of Art has acquired two images by Blackmon, both from 2022: Flatboat, a gift from Bill Haw, Jr., and Paddleboard, a gift from the artist.

The oldest of nine children and mother to three, Julie Blackmon photographer draws on art historical and popular culture motifs and combines them with her personal experience as part of a large family. Inspired by the photographs of Helen Levitt, Diane Arbus, and Sally Mann, whose works she first encountered in college, Blackmon began to picture the small pleasures, disappointments, and fleeting joys of childhood. Her subject is her sprawling family, including her many nieces and nephews, as well as friends and neighbors, who have become her “troupe of players.”

Working in bright, saturated color, Blackmon’s witty photographs are full of detail and layered meanings. They are unabashedly fictitious, evoking both a theatrical set and a film still.

Paddleboard pays homage to one of the most famous paintings in American art history, George Caleb Bingham’s Fur Traders Descending the Missouri (1845). The Julie Blackmon photograph replaces the two men with a heavily pregnant young woman and a small boy, thus centering women’s labor. The cargo of the fur traders has been swapped with a tall stack of coolers. The child swimming in the background, with a shark fin strapped to his or her back, adds a menacing note, suggesting the struggle for survival despite the apparent tranquility of the scene.

In Flatboat, Julie Blackmon photographer has restaged another of Bingham’s iconic paintings, The Jolly Flatboatmen (1846), which is part of the National Gallery’s permanent collection, as a tableau of children and adolescents loafing on a raft. However, in Blackmon’s present-day reimagining, the central white male figure of the painting becomes a young Black girl reveling in the joy of a summer’s day.

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