Butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and other colorful insects take center stage in this collection of Jo Whaley’s photographs. These arranged images emphasize the wonder and gemlike exquisiteness of these creatures through color, texture, and lighting.
The photographs show insects in altered habitats that reflect a compromised natural environment. Entomology specimens are juxtaposed with backgrounds which are composed of cast-off materials from urban production, which have partially been reclaimed by nature; such as metal that is rusted, paper that is foxed by microorganisms and plastic pitted by the sea. The result is a world of nature, intermixed with the man in manufacture, and the melancholy beauty of entropy.
The Theater of Insects opened at the Henry Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, England Sept 2012-April 2013. Earlier solo exhibits of the work were at the National Academy of Sciences, on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and the de Saisset Museum, CA.
A monograph published by Chronicle books accompanies the exhibit as it continues to tour.
The photographs are archival digital prints, with sizes that range from 8x10 to 20x24 to 30x24 inches, printed by the artist. There are a total of 25 prints per image.
The photographs from the Natura Morta series draw their concepts from the rich tradition of European still life painting. Just as the 17th century painters used the "vanitas " still lifes as metaphors for the transitory nature of human life, these photographs also provide cautionary tales. Historically, a perfect display of the earth's bounty was celebrated through paint. These photographic still lifes echo those compositions, roses dusted with soot or tree limbs reconstructed with clamps. Quirky elements and unsettling juxtapositions of the natural with the artificial, reflect the ironic tensions that exist between urban culture and the natural environment. Natura Morta means still life in Italian, but significantly the literal translation is dead nature.
By combining elements of painting and theater, Whaley constructed these still life sets using props, theatrical lighting and painted backdrops of apocalyptic skies. The artist did not employ digital techniques to enhance her photographs, but rather, the images were shot using a 4x5 view camera and film.
The images are available as chromogenic photographs or archival pigment prints from the scanned negative. The sizes range from 20x24 and 30x40 inches. There are a total of 25 prints per image
EARLY WORK / GLOBAL FOLLY
This early work represents my first venture in fusing my scenic experience in theater with the medium of color photography. Having received a grant from the Polaroid Corporation to work with the 20x24 Camera in 1989, I created images that translated photography into “ a crude form of theater”, to quote Roland Barthes. I painted backdrops, created stage sets and used theatrical gels to “paint” the figure with colored light; employing an expressive use of color, rather than a descriptive one. While this suite of prints entitled “Global Folly” is small, it forms the visionary and stylistic basis of all my subsequent bodies of work.
In these narrative fictions, the figures are shown under acid rain skies, amongst the debris of urban culture or pouring tea, while some explosion blasts through the distance. While these images depict, a cautionary tale, they are intentionally sensual, having a baroque sensibility of opulent decay. It poses the question: if our natural world is really a paradise, are we causing our own expulsion?
Each series is distinct, in subject matter, content and treatment. The common conceptual thread throughout the various portfolios is a reflection on the interface between nature and urban technological culture. With an ironic and quirky point of view, I juxtapose organic and manmade elements to reflect the tensions inherent in this interface. I delight in using art historical references as a connection to the past, while pondering the various fictions of our future. The photographic studio is the theater in which the production of the narrative occurs.
Natura Morta Portfolio:
4x5 Arca Swiss, color negative film. No digital alteration.
Chromogenic photographs or archival pigment prints from the scanned negative. The sizes range from 20x24 and 30x40 inches. There are a total of 25 prints per image. Dates:1991-1996
The Theater of Insects Portfolio:
4x5 Arca Swiss and Mamiya 6x7 RB camera,color negative film;Canon 5-D digital camera.
The photographs are chromogenic photographs and archival digital prints
Sizes range from 8x10 to 20x24 to 30x24 inches. Total prints per image: 25
Global Folly Portfolio:
Unique Polaroid 20x24 prints as well as chromogenic prints from 4x5 color negative film.
The Polaroid prints were produced in New York and Los Angeles under several Artist Grants awarded from the Polaroid Corporation. Dates 1989-1991
Jo Whaley has lifelong roots in the San Francisco Bay Area, having earned advanced degrees in Art and Photography from the University of California, Berkeley by 1980. Whaley originally studied to become a painter and later took a day job as a scenic artist for the San Francisco Opera and other Bay Area theatrical companies. Her theater experience openly informs her photography, in which she creates stage sets and employs numerous props, painted backdrops and dramatic lighting. All of her photographic series fuse the language of photography with the language of painting and rely on an expressive use of color.
Widely exhibited, her work is held in the permanent collections of many museums, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Art. Her touring exhibit “The Theater of Insects” opened at the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC in the Fall of 2008 and has continually toured to museums throughout the United States. Currently the exhibit is at The Henry Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock Abbey, UK. A monograph, “The Theater of Insects” was published by Chronicle Books.
Jo Whaley received one of the last National Endowment Visual Artists Fellowships in 1994 for her “Natura Morta” series. She received numerous grants to work with the Polaroid 20x24 camera in New York between 1989 and 1993 for her series of nudes, entitled “Global Folly”. She keeps studios in Santa Fe, NM and Berkeley, CA and shares her life with the photographer Greg Mac Gregor.
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