Yola Monakhov Stockton: The Nature of Imitation
Yola Monakhov Stockton has a unique background, one that you would never expect after looking through today’s body of work The Nature of Imitation. For years, she worked as a photojournalist shooting in various conflict zones all over the world, though now that part of her life has long passed. Yola’s new monograph embraces a romantic way of looking at photography, one that activates the beauty of study and examination. Her heavy hand reveals processes, both in camera and through development, that burst with color and amplify our human attraction to nature. The Nature of Imitation, published by Schilt Publishing & Gallery in Amsterdam this year, is Yola’s first monograph. Concurrently, this work will be on display at Rick Wester Fine Art till October 24.
Yola was born in Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, and grew up in New York City. She studied Comparative Literature and received a Master’s degree in Italian from Columbia University. From 1999 to 2005, she worked as a freelance photographer for the New York Daily News and the Trust for Public Land, as well as in Afghanistan, the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iran, Jordan, Kosovo, Pakistan and Russia. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Harper’s, Esquire, Le Monde, Marie Claire, El Mundo, The New York Times, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Time and US News and World Report. From 2005 to 2011, she regularly photographed for The New Yorker. After completing an MFA at Columbia in 2007, she taught at Columbia, the International Center of Photography, LaGuardia Community College, and Pace. Since 2011, she has been Harnish Visiting Artist at Smith College. Solo exhibitions include Alice Austen House, Aviary, Hampshire, Old Dominion University, Sasha Wolf, and Rick Wester Fine Art, where her work will be on view in two concurrent exhibitions this fall. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with her husband and two children.
The Nature of Imitation
By looking closely at living birds in the field through the materiality of color film and studio props, this forthcoming book explores the connection between seeing, knowing, and wanting. In detailed, hyper–real photographs that recall the decorative drawings of natural history, the work evokes the delicate experience of holding a bird, against traditions of landscape representation in religious iconography, Renaissance frescoes and tapestries, and Modernist painting and sculpture. Through collaborations with scientists, ecologists, and naturalists on the Massachusetts coast, and at universities and research centers across the Northeast and in Costa Rica, the photographer gained access to wild birds captured for banding, before their release, and those captive in labs. Alongside photographs taken in orchards, gardens, and on wooded paths, the work cultivates a vocabulary of techniques that attend to the process of making, such as light leaks on film, objects acting as masks inside the camera, or evidence of equipment, paper backdrops, and cut–out shapes. The field becomes an improvised studio, a living picture plane. The series draws on the contact–printed albums of Anna Atkins and illustrations of John James Audubon, and revisits positivist modes of photographic representation against a contemporary and personal awareness of the fragility of place.
The work derives from the photographer’s background as a documentary photographer in fields of conflict, where the deeply-felt experience of presence and witnessing sometimes clashed with the aesthetics of the resulting photographs, which were steeped in the exigencies of narrative. Here, in the constructed field of a pictorial space, the artist wished to make work in the field, in the place of the living objects depicted, but to do so as if in a studio, a place of making, control, and imagination.
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