Julie Cockburn "SLIGHT EXPOSURE" at Yossi Milo Gallery

Slight Exposure, an exhibition of hand altered found photographs by London-based artist Julie Cockburn, marks the artist’s first US solo show. The exhibition mainly consists of found portraits and landscapes, all roughly dated between the 40’s and 50’s and then meticulously altered through sewing or cutting. The portraits within the first gallery feature mainly women or children whose faces are either hidden or accented with immaculately sewn rainbow blobs, or geometric cuts creating a kaleidoscopic effect. The rural landscapes featured are adorned with sewn brightly colored bubbles. The back gallery features not only work similar to the first gallery, but also includes a series of ‘Doodle-Faces’ – portraits with simple doodles drawn over them which have then again been meticulously sewn.

Bubble Hill, 2013
Hand embroidery on found photograph
8″ × 10″
Unique

While the execution of the blobs and bubbles is immaculate, the alteration itself leaves more to be desired. The psychological implications of how Cockburn alters these photographs are minimal and playful. However, in a field which has been well traversed in recent times by artists such as Marlo Pascual, Ariel Chiesa and Maurizio Anzeri, the work of Cockburn merely feels safe in a realm that has quite a bit of potential. The rainbow blobs and bright bubbles do not interact with the portraits in a way which accents the qualities inherent to the photographs, but rather they intrude. This imposition allows for only the most basic of questions to enter into the conversation between the original photograph and its alteration.

The Favourite Child, 2013
Hand embroidery on found photograph
8″ × 10″
Unique

Cockburn finally recognizes and utilizes the potential of this conversation within the series ‘Doodle-Faces’. These photographs seems to be headshots and yearbook photos which have rudimentary doodles drawn over them, which have then been perfectly stitched. This work humorously echos the doodles often made by high-schoolers in yearbooks over the portraits of peers they both love and hate, creating a narrative within the work which is a refreshing change within the exhibition. These works establish those speaking within the conversation, giving voice to both the subject and the artist. The doodles don’t mask the entire face, allowing the photograph to speak with (and in some cases against) it’s alteration. They are not only funny, but also dark, and more importantly they are recognizably human.

Doodle Face 2, 2013
Hand embroidery, watercolor on found photograph
10″ × 8″
Unique

Slight Exposure is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery, 245 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY.
December 12th, 2013 – January 25th, 2014.

Robert Hickerson is a Brooklyn based video and installation artist, and a contributor for Lintroller.

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2 Comments

  1. Robert, I really appreciate your thoughts here. I also work with found photos. Vernacular photographs can be an important vehicle for meaningful, thoughtful expression. Sontag wrote, “Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy.” Like you, I feel there is the potential for much more here.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Jane. I agree wholeheartedly with your thoughts on vernacular photography. I think some artists become preoccupied with vernacular photography’s seductive visual qualities, and don’t fully utilize their potential as vehicles to elicit dialogue. It’s easy to become blindsided by these seductive qualities because, as artist Maurizio Anzeri said, “We don’t recognise them as photographs… they really look like watercolours or drawings.”

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