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by Suzanne Révy, Associate Editor
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
Absorbed in the mud and muck of a river or collecting sticks, stones and leaves in the creation of mythic and imaginative narratives is the important work of children. Children are intuitively artists and scientists, inquisitive and analytical. Play comes naturally to the young, and as we grow, our ability to immerse ourselves in creative exploration and fanciful fictions fades for many adults. Jennifer Shaw, however, displays a sensitive and curious nature in her photographs of her family and children in her series, The Space Between currently on view in the Griffin Museum of Photography’s Atelier Gallery through October 5, 2018.
Shaw’s beguiling images were made using a Diana camera with black and white film. Known for using the Holga in earlier work, Shaw opted for the Diana because the lens is not as wide, and the optics render a softer look to the pictures than the Holga. It allowed for a closer look and a dreamier mood of the childhood antics and outdoor play she observed of her children and family during summer visits to a river camp near their home in New Orleans.
There is a strange tension in many of these images, they are, after all, simple views of children at play, and yet they become a complex web of meanings as the viewer is immersed in Shaw’s world. “Back Door” for instance, looks like a child’s plaintive plea for a snack based on the gesture and shadow of the hand, but the face and body are obscured. Is it her son or daughter? Are they hurt? Is something else wrong? I reach into my own well of fears as both a child and a parent.
“Battlefield” manages to recall Alexander Gardner’s Civil War images of the 19th century, but the sidelong glance and languid gestures of young children lying on the lush lawn recall the freedom of discovering and learning outside the classroom. For a parent, of course, it brings to mind the harrowing sense that someday, your child may go off to a war. Shaw writes, “The images are juxtaposed to create an introspective narrative, mining the richly ambiguous state of parenthood, akin to the murky realm between the river’s glittering surface and its hidden undercurrents.”
In addition to the fears that may arise from her images, Shaw brings both humor and reverence to her work. The childlike attraction to stickers is wittily demonstrated in an image of a her son; he has playfully covered his chest and belly with them in “Stickers.” Another image reveals a quiet moment of solitude between an older boy and a younger girl in “Kaitlyn and Cade in Gravel,” and speaks to their guileless pleasure of the gravel’s texture but also, through a Christ-like gesture, to Shaw’s veneration for, “the exquisite little creatures known as children.”
Also on view through October 5, 2018 at the Griffin Museum of Photography is the group show Photography Atelier 28 in the Main Gallery, and The Infinite Internal by the John Chervinsky Scholarship winner Rachel Fein-Smolinski in the Griffin Gallery. For more information, go to: https://griffinmuseum.org/exhibitions/