How do we remember? Let us count the ways
Jamie Sherman Blinder
Joanne Leonard is an artist who has always offered a view into the room, cataloguing the small details, the countertop, toys strewn about the floor, a lover asleep on the bed, the dream of a window, and the house not quite ready for company. Both the act of photographing and the resulting images of this inner world serve as record of the human trace and the value of our own human experiences. Her photographs are as much about what matters as the mattering, profoundly personal and conversely starling in their entirety.
I first met Joanne Leonard in the 1980s. I was her student at the University of Michigan, just beginning to explore my own voice as a young woman and an artist. She was perhaps the first person I’d ever known and the only art professor at the time (most were men) that spoke of empowerment, feminism, the strength and potential impact of our own stories, ideas, and imaginations. It wasn’t until years later that I recognized her tremendous influence on my own artistic practice. I had carried her with me. She taught me that value is inherent in one’s life and work, but it is also dependent on a constant vigil and endurance…a commitment to the process of becoming.
Joanne Leonard’s work has never been static or complacent, rather in a state of response. Her own narratives and the reign of the world’s events are in overlay, deeply relevant to the collective shifts of society.
Leonard’s use of collage reiterates this back and forth between public and private, past and present, real and imagined. The materiality of her photographic collages juxtaposes the flat, two-dimensional surface with the luridness of unexpected combinations. A hint of color, texture, pattern, a passage of text ignites the images, alluding to that place of seismic instability, where all breaks away.
In “Newspaper Diary: Trompe l’Oeil Photographs,” Leonard continues the conversation. The significance of our books and correspondence, our histories, our love letters, our rituals are in doubt. These brave new works initially reside in the present. They are modern and unaffected, somehow reassuring. We can almost picture the artist herself drinking her coffee, reading the Times, placing cuttings of the newspaper against the pages of her favorite art book.
Before long, through a carefully considered sleight of hand, these trompe-l’oeil photographs defy all presumptions and constructs of time, upending any notion we have about history and our place in it, or some record left for posterity’s sake. These compositions exist only in the photographs; they are props, mise-en-scenes. And in this discovery comes the wrenching acceptance of what we desperately try to save and what we inevitably brace ourselves to lose in the midst of it all.
The works in “Newspaper Diary” are highly complex conceptually. Each photograph captures the translation from idea to volition. The gravity of the book, the image, and the paper succumb to the impermanence of things. As a final record, the photographs themselves become object. The uncanny relationship between visual representations decades apart suggests that our uniqueness is more likely and predictable than we think, like a roll of sixes in a game of dice, or the Jack of Spades in a deck of cards…noteworthy, but not beyond replication.
We live in a world full of black holes, twitters and texts, and the big bang. Perhaps in some alternatte universe there eixsts another version of us, with a different end.
“Newspaper Diary” offers no absolutes but some measure alluding to continuity…what came before, “it is what it is” and a life after this one.
Joanne Leonard matter-of-factly catalogs this time line, capturing for a moment the poignant immediacy of the everyday, the harsh realities of the times in which we live, and the inevitability of a tomorrow that may not remember what mattered. yet, in the deliberateness of these photographs that are already recollections, Leonard also embraces humanity and a certain resilience.
Joanne Leonard is a photographer, photo-collage artist, teacher, writer , and feminist whose work has contributed to a wide variety of fields from fine art to autobiography studies. Her work has been included in the San Francisco Museum of Art’s “Women of Photography” (1975), Lippard’s “From the Center” (1976), Janson’s “History of Art” (1986), Gardner’s “Art Through the Ages” (1991), Hirsch’s “The Familial Gaze” (1996), and Chaney’s “Graphic Subjects” (2011).
In 2008, her gorgeously produced visual memoir “Being In Pictures: An Intimate Photo Memoir,” with foreword by Lucy R. Lippard, was published by University of Michigan Press. In the 1960s and ’70s, she taught in the San Francisco Bay area including at San Francisco Art Institute and Mills College. She is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan, where she taught for 31 years.
From an early point in her years of image making, Leonard used photo collage to (con)textualize her own photo images, combining them with news photos as in the 1970s collage Red Triptych. “Journal of a Miscarriage “(1973), a wordless journal made entirely in photo-collage, and “Julia and the Window of Vulnerability,” a 1980s photo collage expressing anxieties about the threat of nuclear war, are works that furthered her explorations of photos from everyday life and images from world news in television and print.
Sixty works created from 1990-92 make up “Not Losing her Memory.” These works overlaid photographs of women in Leonard’s family with dialogue form broadcasts of the Anita Hill/Calrence Thomas hearings. A small cache of news clippings from 1877 play a central role in Leonard’s film-like “Reel Family,” a 22-foot-long translucent collage made in 2000.
Now her “Newspaper Diary,” a series begun in 2005 and continuing, suggest her expansive engagement with the daily newspaper and a vast archive of images in books.
Amanda Krugliak is curator of “Newspaper Diaries: Trompe l’Oeil Photographs” by Joanne Leonard. She is arts programming manager at U-M’s Humanities Institute, and a lecturer in the School of Art and Design.
Jamie Sherman Blinder
Jamie Sherman Blinder