Jo Whaley Statement

Artist Statement

Insects depicted larger than life, approach a human scale. One can confront them face to face and wonder at their structure and designs. In these images, the insects inhabit peculiar dioramas of an altered environment, which is vaguely familiar to the human mind, but at odds with the natural world. These creatures have seemingly adapted, as they blend amongst the glass, metal and concrete. Atmospheric skies are questionable in their chemical composition. Nature has in turn, deteriorated the man-made, through rust, cracks and decay; indicating that man, too, is as fragile and minuscule as a moth. These images are metaphors of an environmental disquietude. However there is a parallel in reality. Some insects are adopting protective coloring to camouflage with our industrialized environment. The classic example is the white birch moth of Manchester, England; which quite suddenly changed to black, in order to blend with the soot laden trees. Biologists have given this phenomenon the name "Industrial Melanism". Insects continue to evolve despite the fumbling of man. Although they appear so small and fragile, their species will most likely exist after we cease to.

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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, but may feature fruit that is half-eaten and abandoned to mold or roses dusted with soot. 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.


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?

Process Statement
Photography has been my medium for the past twenty years. However, early in my career, I studied painting and worked as a scenic artist for the theater. The skills and sensibilities that I learned from these early experiences really define my style as a photographer. My images are theatrical tableaus, which I photograph with a view camera. My studio is similar to a scene shop, with a prop room and a collection of backdrops. As in the theater, my sets are carefully lit, often using colored gels, so as to integrate the objects into the painted backdrops, as well as to evoke specific moods. The resultant image is poised between the imaginary and the real.

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