Jennifer Gardner's poetic photographs mix genres and emotions to depict dual subjects - half-human, poised with candid nudity and half-comic strip character. The overlaying emotional language traverses a range of emotions-from amusing delight to deeply personal truths. The title of Gardner's exhibition, and much of its inspiration, comes from the unexpurgated diaries of Anaos Nin, Incest From A Journal of Love (1932-1934) and Fire From A Journal of Love (1934-1937). The phrase Happiness, Primitives is from one of Gardner's favorite passages of this work.
Nin's text struck a resounding chord in me and helped guide the series. I was moved by her daringly honest self-exploration into the dark, native regions of her heart, and her courage to write about it so candidly, says Gardner. Nin used her personal relationships and her sexuality as a means to gain greater self-awareness ñ an endeavor that was, at the time, reserved for men only. Gardner created these images to reach much the same goal.
Visually Gardner's characters are often reminiscent of those in Maurice Sendak children's story - Where the Wild Things Are. Her creatures are simultaneously cute and cuddly plus fearsome with a dose of eerie surrealism. The photographs are soft focus black and white images of 'grown-ups' at play. Gardner positions her fleshy, often oversized real bodies in the wilderness or urban landscapes, leaping about with glee without any covering except large oversized toy heads. Live erotic caricatures pose with costume heads from a lion, panda bear, sheep and bull, panther, rabbit and chipmunk.
The project began by Gardner photographing her friend Bob nude in the landscape. These early pictures were as much about Bob as they were about the landscape. Gardner says one day, for reasons still unclear to me, I asked Bob to put on a rabbit mask while we were in the Arizona desert, and this series was born. The masks served nicely to simultaneously mirror and mock the dehumanizing or objectifying effect of pornography, but without turning the project into a photo-diatribe against the evils of male-dictated societal conventions. I like portraying Bob and other friends/models in all their imperfect splendor.
At first Gardner concentrated on photographing masked men only, finding both the images and the process of making them darkly am using and empowering. I enjoyed rebuking feminine beauty myths and turning the notion of sexual exploitation on its head by depicting male nudity in the same way that men have depicted women since even before the invention of the camera, says Gardner.
The exhibitionís signature image ëLion and Bear throwing the ballí shows a gargantuan male wearing a lionís head playfully tossing a globe to a hybrid of a man and fierce bear with open fangs. The twilight exposes a full moon that hangs in the middle of the frame perched above the ball.
Another photograph catches a fleshy man standing prone like a gunslinger beside three gigantic cacti; his floppy rabbit ear falling askew over the maskís empty bottomless eyes. Gardner's accompanying text by Nin reads While he talks I feel this dark-skinned, mythological animal so potent, not human looking, but animal, with the ugliness of earth, the solidity, and the sinewyness, and the mind so agile and abysmal.
The series evolved as Gardner began to photograph women and children in various combinations in urban locations. These images comment on modern domestic life, and in their own way, attempt to debunk other supposed norms that we, as a society, and especially as women, have had imposed upon us, expresses Gardner. While certain viewers might differ, this project is not meant to convey any particular feminist manifesto. I am not an intellectual feminist. All I know is that the images are, at least to me, sometimes funny, sometimes moving and sometimes surreal. And that, to me, is satisfying enough.
Jenifer Gardner, AKA Grossblatt is a native to California, raised, educated and currently working in Los Angeles as an entertainment business litigation attorney, it is Gardnerís roots to this city that helped discover many of the scenic urban locations used in her photographs. With the assistance of some of photography's greatest - Shelby Lee Adams, Albert Watson, Keith Carter and Mary Ellen Mark - Gardner honed her skills for shooting both landscape and portraits by attending their workshops.
Her previous bodies of work have touched on themes such as people with disabilities and Hollywood's runaway children. Solo exhibitions include Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (1996), The Angst Ensemble Theater, San Francisco (1998), Fototeca Nacional (National Photo Library), Mexico (1999) and the XIV Abril Mes Internacional De La Fotografia, Yucatan, Mexico (2000). In 1997 Gardner was invited to exhibit in the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photographyís Biennial Exhibition.