Photographer Bill Jacobson: A Rare Look at the Evolution of an Artist

New Years Day #5074, 2003 © Bill Jacobson (On view at Julie Saul Gallery)

 

Untitled #4118, 2001 © Bill Jacobson

 

New Years Day #4580, 2002 © Bill Jacobson

If you’re in New York be sure to stop by Julie Saul Gallery to catch Bill Jacobson’s new photography show. Into the Loving Nowhere (1989 till now) opens Thursday, October 20th with a special reception from 6-8 p.m. and will be on view through December 10th. The featured photographs were made over a 22-year span and offer a rare opportunity to see a select retrospective of Jacobson’s work.

I’ve been following Jacobson’s photography for many years now and have enjoyed watching his style evolve from the soft, out-of-focus black and white photographs of his early career, to his series of color landscapes and interiors, to his current exploration of space and geometry.

As Jacobson explains on his website, his work “parallels an inner journey through a world we are constantly experiencing with the uncertainty of the mind’s eye rather than the sharp clarity of a camera lens.” His photographs are intimate and deeply poetic, evoking the fragmented states of memory and dreams.

Interim Landscape #134-14, 1989 © Bill Jacobson (On view at Julie Saul Gallery)

 

Interim Landscape #185-6, 1989 © Bill Jacobson

 

Interim Portrait #245, 1992 © Bill Jacobson

 

Song of Sentient Beings #1583, 1995 © Bill Jacobson (On view at Julie Saul Gallery)

Looking at Jacobson’s earlier blurred portraits of people and places, I am often reminded of the vintage, out-of-focus snapshots I collect at thrift and antique stores. It came as no surprise then, when I discovered that Jacobson also has a fascination with 20th century vernacular photographs. He describes their influence in an interview with Ian Berry:
 

I spent a lot of the 1980s collecting early twentieth-century anonymous snapshots from flea markets. They would immediately bring to mind that the subjects were no longer alive, or were decades older than when the images were made. The figures in them were often blurred or obscured, and this became a parallel for the passage of time, illness, or death. I often think of Roland Barthes writing in Camera Lucida that every photograph is of a dead moment…

I’ve always been inspired by old photographs and their ability to transport the viewer back in time. When I was young, I was the person in my family who really liked visiting older relatives. Their houses, belongings, and ways of being all reflected an earlier time. To be in their world was like being in an old snapshot. And of course they had numerous family albums to look at, so the whole experience was a kind of time-traveling. I constantly sense the layering of time, and my photographs have often been about suggesting those layers. It’s one of the reasons I prefer New York to Los Angeles. Because it’s an older city, I find more layers to uncover here.

A Series of Human Decisions #2510, 2008 © Bill Jacobson

 

A Series of Human Decisions #1594, 2005 © Bill Jacobson

 

A Series of Human Decisions #2271, 2007 © Bill Jacobson

In recent years, Jacobson’s work has become more minimalist and concerned with the investigation of geometry and space. Since 2004 the image of the rectangle has appeared repeatedly in his work. It is the unifying theme that runs through A Series of Human Decisions, Jacobson’s first in-focus series since his graduate-school days. The rectangle also appears throughout Some Planes–a striking collection of landscape photographs of the American West that recall both Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly–and in his most recent work, Place (Series).

“I became drawn to the rectangle as something which really doesn’t exist in nature,” says Jacobson, “but which also represents an archetype of our visual journey through the world. So much of what we make is consistently rectangular. You find it constantly in art and architecture, furniture and signage, and all books and photographs. But it’s not only visual … I think the rectangle exists as an emotional portal as well.”

Some Planes #514, 2007 © Bill Jacobson

 

Some Planes #601, 2007 © Bill Jacobson (On View at Julie Saul Gallery)

 

Some Planes #204, 2007 © Bill Jacobson

 

Place (Series) #1, 2009 © Bill Jacobson

 

Place (Series) #125, 2009 © Bill Jacobson (On view at Julie Saul Gallery)

“There has always been a poetic stance in my work,” says Jacobson. “Whether in focus or out, it’s never been about a single narrative, but rather something beneath the surface of what’s being photographed. And while there is a story here, I agree with you that it’s fairly open-ended.”

Each time I’ve seen Jacobson’s photographs, I’ve been impressed not only with his vision and execution, but also the caliber and rich quality of his prints. Like most art work, these photographs should be seen in person to be appreciated, particularly the images from the Some Planes series, which contain many subtle, rich details easily lost on a computer screen.

Considering the success of his early work–the blurred, black and white photographs Jacobson became known for–it would have been easy for him to settle into a comfortable style, producing the same type of image again and again. While pleasing an audience might be one path to monetary success, it is creative death to a talented artist. The Julie Saul show is an opportunity to observe how Jacobson has evolved over the past 20 years–a chance to see how this accomplished photographer has continued to challenge not only his admirers with new work and ideas, but also himself as an artist.

(Untitled) #3839, 2000 © Bill Jacobson

 

New Years Day #5050, 2003 © Bill Jacobson

 

New Years Day #4561, 2002 © Bill Jacobson

Into the Loving Nowhere (1989 till now) runs from October 20-December 10, 2011 at the Julie Saul Gallery at 535 West 22nd Street in New York City. There will be an opening reception for the show Thursday night, October 20th from 6-8 p.m. For more information about the show or Bill Jacobson prints, please contact the gallery at mail@saulgallery.com or 212-627-2410.

To explore Bill Jacobson’s photographs further, you can order the following publications here or at your local bookstore or library:


 

 

 
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About the Author:

I'm a writer, photographer, and the creator of Gwarlingo, a crowd-funded arts & culture journal that covers contemporary art, music, books, film, and the creative process. I’ve spent nearly 20 years as an arts enabler, helping thousands of successful artists of all disciplines and working to make the arts more accessible. From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, but I’ve also done time at an arts magazine, a library, and an art museum in Atlanta. For two years I cared for injured eagles, hawks, and owls at a raptor rehabilitation center in Vermont. In May of 2012 I left MacDowell to pursue writing, speaking, consulting, and creative projects full-time. (You can check out my recent projects here.) I’ve appeared as an arts and culture commentator on New Hampshire Public Radio, served as the judge for A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Orlando Literary Prize, and received fellowships from the Hambidge Center and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. My writing and photography have appeared in RISD XYZ magazine, 2Paragraphs, Psychology Today, Born Journal, and other publications. I offer one-on-one coaching sessions, group workshops, and speak to businesses, arts groups, and students about overcoming the psychological and practical barriers to producing your best work. (Read more here .) If you'd like to work with me one-on-one or hire me to speak at your school, business, or organization, please contact me at michelle (at) gwarlingo (dot) com. -

One Comment

  1. Angela October 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I was going to try to make his show tonight but now I know I must go.

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