Pictura Gallery

Julia Vandenoever | Still Breathing

May 7, 2021

Emerge Vandenoever

How long does a goldfish live?
In a fish bowl: 1 month to 5 years, in a fish tank: 12 – 25 years, in a pond: 25+ years.
I was surprised to learn of their longevity out of the bowl. Following custom, we drastically change their lives with the limits of a small vessel.

Goldfish show up a few times in Julia Vandenoever’s Still Breathing, a series of crystalline photographs about childhood and time. These fish have notoriously short memories, so it’s an unexpected choice for a project on the long arc of memory. In a stark image, a goldfish appears to be out of water, gelatinous, casting a shallow shadow. It’s an expertly simple picture on the lesson of mortality in childhood. In another quiet photograph, the artist’s daughter is an adroit form in the sea, echoing the fish as she swims by in an orange bathing suit.

Echoes abound in Still Breathing, and that’s intentional. Vandenoever is recalling her own childhood, casting the past on to scenes playing out in the present with her own family. She’s going after specific feelings from her history, and she summons them with total simplicity. Vandenoever photographs her children with the intimacy of a mother and the cadence of a practiced storyteller.

It’s a treat when a skilled editorial photographer turns her attention back to fine art. Accustomed to cutting the chaff in order to communicate clearly, she understands the power of keeping it spare. She is unafraid of an uncomplicated composition. She trusts that the pictures will build onto one another.

When the children are shown dusted in snow, roaming into fields, it feels to me that they are thriving out of the fishbowl, so to speak. Even as their human fragility is spotlighted, even as Vandenoever’s own life circumstances were riddled with the challenges of job loss and death in the family, the kids are going to be okay. The pictures draw me into the push and pull of parental love and protection, heading towards that pond of independence.

- Lisa Woodward

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