Jack Spencer: The States Project: Tennessee
Many years ago, I read an article in the local Nashville newspaper about a photographer who was creating art in a way that was so foreign to work I was familiar with. His eye saw subjects in a new enlightened way. His production techniques included covering his prints in coatings typically used by painters and distressing them with scratches and rubs to give them a weathered look. I was so intrigued by this new way of producing images that I kept the article and still have it today.
The artist creating this fascinating work was Jack Spencer. Since then, Jack has become an inspiration to many, a highly sought after artist worldwide and a generous friend to me and the world of photographic art.
While some artists find a style that provides them a certain level of success and stick with it for their lifetime, Jack can’t be accused of getting comfortable with a look. He is continually refining his approach to his art. He is fearless, reinventing himself, always searching.
His two latest bodies of work give proof to this diversity: This Land: An American Portrait and Mythologies.
Jack Spencer is a fine art photographer whose work is in major private and public collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Berkeley Museum of Art; the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; the Brookings Institute, Fairfax, Virginia; the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville; the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; and the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 2005, he received the Lucie Award for International Photographer of the Year in the nature category. His work has been published in the monographs Native Soil, by LSU Press, Jack Spencer by 21st Editions and Jack Spencer: Beyond the Surface by Vanderbilt Press, with upcoming monographs; This Land-An American Portrait by University of Texas Press and Mythologies by 21st Editions. Spencer lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
This Land is a series of portraits of America started as an inquiry into the land we live upon after the invasion into Iraq in 2003. An 80,000 mile and 13 year odyssey issued and has just recently been finished. The series deals with the American land and has only evidence of human influence. It is not a travelogue and relies on a subjective interpretation of this land. It started as being a not so kind interpretation, with the prints being stained and torn and severely presented. Eventually that approach eased and the realization that this land can be described using literally any adjective and it’s antonym.. vast/local, beautiful/ugly, rich/destitute and so forth. Avoiding the low hanging fruit of ubiquitous flags and jingoism, empty shopping center parking lots (of which I’ve already seen too many) and sprawl and development, there was more emphasis placed on the dichotomy of the pristine and tranquil vs. decay and abandonment. It is a vast beautiful and wonderful land yet it has an ugly patina of thoughtlessness surrounding it.
Mythologies is a series that is quite different. I have never allowed myself to be bored by making the same work over and over and over, ad nauseam. This series is a transition from other bodies of work that were similar. The figures in this series only exist here.. on this plane alone. They have no existence otherwise. They are beings who have no history nor future and only exist “mythologically” without bounds of personal reality.
Of course there is no need in our time for the world to be explained with tales of imaginary heroic beings. We know the world is not flat and that the sun does not fall into the sea every evening. There are no gods who make our crops grow or give us rain or wealth. There are no oracles. Yet mystery still abounds, and still fascinates. What is known isn’t nearly as interesting as what isn’t known. These figures don’t represent powers or traits, simply the mystery of existence and the fleeting awareness of beauty and grace. Of course beauty and grace are always imperfect–flawed and never fully realized except in their “perfection of imperfection” and in the transient qualities that never last, as ephemeral as a cloud. The images are fictions and myths meant to provoke surprise and wonder, as well as a pondering of the unknown and unknowable. They serve no other purpose. They ask nothing more than to exist as they are.
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