Showing on the complexities of a father-daughter relationship

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In her latest publication, Justine Kurland’s intimate black-and-white photographs sit down alongside her late father’s still life paintings. The meditation on “psychic energy dynamics, ” as she describes it

Life is messy. The problematic coexists with the visionary. The violent with the loving. The trauma with the liberation. The complexities of living and finding meaning amongst rupture are at the primary of Justine Kurland’s most recent project, The Stick . The publication situates her intimate images together with her late father Bruce Kurland’s ( 1938–2013) still life paintings. This reveals connective threads that unite their artistic sensibilities while grappling with the filled psychological landscape between father and daughter.

“Our father’s love was coupled with rudeness, ” Kurland writes in her short essay released in the book. “He was a ghost father. Our relationship has been almost nonexistent. Because he has been absent, he had more impact over me than my mother, who was always around. ” In many ways, The Stick presents this absence while resisting sentimentality. Kurland utilizes the conversation between the girl and her father’s act as an act of self-representation and empowerment. She contains images of her enthusiast and mother alongside personal still lifes and haunting landscapes in what one could explain as a fragmented self-portrait. Together with Bruce’s surreal paintings — flowers draped with raw bacon, a tortured crab shell, birds shrouded within smoke — the book animates an emotional back and forth and addresses themes associated with patriarchy, gender, trauma plus liberation.

© Justine Kurland / TIS books.

The project’s title, The Stick, takes its name from the last drawing Bruce made while dying in hospital. “The loose sketch is of himself, ” Kurland explains. “He has an IV behind him and a health care worker straddling him. It looks like she is giving him head. ” The illustration is certainly unsettling and provocative. It reflects Kurland embracing the particular complexities of her father and their relationship along with transformative effect.

“After my father died, I walked by means of his house and photographed his things with my iPhone, ” Kurland recounts in an essay titled F-Hole . “I felt creepy doing it — not which he would have minded, but occasionally what a photograph shows is not nice. He lived in deprival and poverty. An mad stoicism marked his home, from his duct-taped orthopedic shoes to the DO NOT RESUSCITATE order taped over the son’s drawing of a train on his refrigerator, aged simply by speckles of food […] I by no means used the photographs for anything at all or even showed them to the sisters. But I think using them changed how I picture. ”                    

© Justine Kurland / TIS books.

© Justine Kurland / TIS books.

In The Stick, Kurland’s shift in approach is palpable. The publication is her first since selling the girl beloved van four in years past, renouncing the road trips associated with her work. To get 10 years, she lived and travelled the United States, continuing intended for another six after the girl son was born. Those pictures encapsulate a longing for rebellion while tackling the much-mythologised construct of the road trip. In contrast, Kurland’s recent work shows on the internal landscape of self and the notion of home. From her residence in New York City, her home town of Fulton, NY, and her mother’s home in rural Virginia, Kurland navigates mental terrain, granting us access to her internal ruminations on sexuality, family and weakness.

The photographer describes The Stick as a “meditation upon psychic power dynamics”. In many ways, it’s the space between the girl photographs and her father’s paintings that reveal over the work itself. The task acknowledges multiple truths plus realities by leaning into the full complexity of ambivalence, creating a new kind of family members album. As Kurland identifies, “I wanted to imagine how a photograph creates affective cable connections, ritualises togetherness, and maintains a record of belonging. ”

© Justine Kurland / TIS books.

Gem Fletcher

Creative director, writer, podcaster plus photo director, Gem Fletcher works across visual-cultural fields, focusing on emerging talent in contemporary photography and art. She is the photo director of Riposte Magazine, plus hosts a photography podcast, The Messy Truth.

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