New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 8 March 7 to 13, 2012

Domestic Forms
Jan Groover
Selected Works
Ed Barnas
 by Jan Groover. Source:
Jan Groover

A theory that emphasizes form rather than content, formalism looks at a work by itself, divorced from any narrative context. In the early 20th century formalism arose along with “straight” photography as a response to the pictorialist movement. Weston was an early proponent and elements of photographic formalism, along with Strand, Siskind, and others. However, multiple approaches often intermix in a single image, and so an image created for documentary or journalistic purposes can be enjoyed for its formal properties.

Trained as a painter, Jan Groover shifted to 35 mm photography in the late ‘60s. In her work, formal considerations are paramount, as is clearly evident in the thirty-seven photos in this memorial retrospective at Janet Borden (Jan Groover died on January 1st of this year.) The show includes five diptychs and triptychs from the early ‘70s as well. While these early pieces are somewhat conceptual in nature (waiting for cars in the right color sequence to pass by in one case), the use of foreground posts to organize the space is very formal.

In 1978 a NEW grant enabled Groover to shift to a view camera (eventually moving up from 4x5 to 8x10 and lastly a 12x20). With this more deliberate equipment she began the kitchen sink series that brought her prominence on the art scene. These carefully arranged and closely seen images awaken in the viewer a newfound appreciation of everyday objects, reminding me of abstract studies of such objects in the 20s and 30s. Also well represented on the walls of the gallery are tabletop studies of bottles, abstract forms, and other objects carefully arranged on various surfaces, some just a sheet of wood. Space “exists” in this two-dimensional work. The deliberate arrangement of elements and the careful attention to the plane of focus draw the viewer into these images. The exhibit includes some other subjects as well – a pair of “snapshots” of arms and legs that exhibit an artful arrangement of the limbs, a cityscape and three landscapes, and an image of three pears which recalled to my mind a Steichen still life from the 20s. The prints are a mix of chromogenic color and platinum palladium (with only the two prints from 2003 as inkjets).

 by unidentified photographer.
Jan Groover

Three quarters of these images were taken between 1978 and 1990, before Jan Groover and her husband moved to France in 1991. Only four images after the move are included, two from the late 90s and two more from 2003.

On request, a visitor to the gallery may be able to view “Tilting at Space,” a short film from 1994 by Tina Barney about Jan Groover featuring interviews with her, her husband, her students, and others. The scenes of her photographing in the French countryside made me want to see more of her later work, while favorite lines include the comments on technique “I know as much as I need to know and no more” and “once you have the content, then you just have to think about the picture.”

Jan Groover
Selected Works

Janet Borden
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Saturday, February 4 to
Saturday, March 17, 2012
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