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Umbra: Without Light There Can Be No Shadow

Umbra, an exhibition of photographs by Julie Renee Jones, is on view at pictura gallery through August 31, 2013.

Kid playing with a balloon.

Childhood, astronomy, and Alice in Wonderland all figure in Julie Renée Jones’ exhibition of photographs Umbra, on view through August 31st at pictura gallery in Bloomington.

The Dayton, Ohio-based photographer(born 1984), who has received recognition both at home and in the September 2012 print issue of The British Journal of Photography, cites inspiration as diverse as the photography of Sally Mann and Viviane Sassen, and the films of David Lynch, Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier and John Carpenter.

For Umbra, her inspiration can be traced to one film and two familiar stories.

Taking a cue from the movie “Solaris”, Jones wanted to create a name “that could be Mars or the Earth, or another world or planet.”

A Journey To Another World

“Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz” provided familiar story lines. In each tale, a girl takes an accidental journey – either falling down a rabbit hole or being pulled upward into a tornado (respectively) – and is transported to a new world. These worlds are “reminiscent of their home, but … kind of twisted and flipped around like … a mirror image,” Jones explains.  They make familiar objects and surroundings seem magical, or otherworldly.

Whereas Alice and Dorothy’s adventures had accompanied Julie her entire childhood, “Solaris” got her thinking about astronomical terms.

But why the title Umbra? Why not Matutine or Cazimi? Despite the shadowy associations of the term, Jones’ photographs don’t look particularly dark or dreary.

Where there is a shadow, of course, there must also be light. In the Umbra photos, Jones explains, she “started using light as a subject,” so that light “almost [becomes] a person in the photographs”.

So ultimately “light is the catalyst for creating this other world, this umbra, … the catalyst for that break, where reality collapses and the magical elements are allowed to kind of seep through”, which is Julie’s Oz. This tension between reality and fantasy, achieved through the play of light, is a central to her work.

Innocence and Experience

While Jones’ use of light serves to transport the viewer between reality and fantasy, the photographer simultaneously straddles the line between innocence and experience in her use of children as models.

Children “are more … able to connect with their imagination than adults are, and suspend their disbelief,” according to Jones.

Superficially innocent, children are nonetheless “coming into their own…becoming adults during the interactions …they have with the monotony of everyday life. And the magical elements are a metaphor for growing up really. They’ re being told … they are supposed to play, they are supposed to be innocent, but there’s so much more going on psychologically and physically, that there’s this really interesting tension.”

Jones acknowledges that the photographs are informed by her own experience of growing up in the American Midwest.


The models’ faces are frequently disguised in Jones’ photographs, either because their back is turned to the viewer or a beam of sunshine obliterates their features.  It’s not a coincidence.

Jones initially chose to obscure the face as a way to give the viewer the opportunity to put herself in the picture, but began to recognize an additional implication of this tactic–

“Denying their face … sets us off. It … creates a tension, … adds an extra level of that what’s unsure about the photograph, if this is a happy or a sad moment.” The photographer likes the confusion the “anti-portraits” cause. “They’re hiding more than they reveal” and looking at those images the viewers are “more confused about the people in the photograph, than they were initially, when they first looked at it”.


In the image titled Air, a little girl standing in a backyard covers her face with a balloon.

The artist took advantage of the light to refresh imagery that could initially register as trite. While the child was playing with that balloon, the sun started to set and suddenly the light shone through that balloon, transforming it into “an orb of light…that almost looks like a portal into another world,” Jones explains. Light transforms a quotidian situation into the realm of fantasy.

 Umbra is on view at pictura gallery in Bloomington, Indiana until August 31st 2013.  Julie Renee Jones gives an artist’s talk at the gallery on August 29th at 7:00 PM.


Event Information


Exhibition of photographs by Julie Renee Jones. The artist speaks about the work at the gallery on August 29 at 7 pm.

Pictura Gallery, 122 West Sixth Street, Bloomington, IN

June 7 - Aug 31, 2013; Tues-Sat, 11 am-7 pm

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