Jason DeMarte: Utopic

Ronnie B. Johnson: Landscapes, Studies in Light and Shadow

Rule Gallery

July 10 - September 5, 2009

Public reception: Friday, July 10, from 6-9pm

Photographer Jason DeMarte - photo by Ken Hamel/DenverArts.org

Photographer Ronnie B. Johnson - photo by Ken Hamel/DenverArts.org

The work of Denver based photographers Ronnie Johnson and Jason DeMarte currently on display at Rule highlights one of the basic conundrums of the medium: is the photographer's job one of documentation, capturing a moment in time, perhaps sublime, perhaps not, or do they frame the world in such a way so as to create a story where there otherwise might not be one? In the rear of the gallery, Johnson floats squarely between the extremes, coaxing personality out of the vast western landscape using a large format camera and presenting pleasant images that placate, but don't excite. It's the work of DeMarte that challenges our assumptions about what it means to document the natural world. DeMarte trains his camera not on a literal landscape, rather he captures images of wildlife through the world of museum dioramas, those boring, hoaky teaching tools that every gradeschool kid is made to study on science field trips.

At first glance, it's not clearly evident what is amiss in DeMarte's images which typically juxtapose nature with photoshopped elements including shapes, logos and various kitsch, like frozen TV dinners and twinkies. The scenes are real enough: a bighorn sheep on a mountain, a manatee under water, a bear walking by a stream, but a closer look reveals the lifeless taxidermy of the subjects, which begs an even closer look at the subtle shift from the posed 3D world to the painted 2D world, the point where the diorama transitions from sculpture to painted background. That's when the viewer realizes they are being lied to, manipulated, shown a scene out of context, and treated to the essence of the photographic medium.

This is territory famously explored by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto who noted "however fake the subject, once photographed, it's as good as real," but where Sugimoto creates conventional documents of the fake, DeMarte is one-upping the fake with colorful additions and bizarre pairings that turn Sugimoto's "as good as real" aphorisms on their head: twinkies float above the bear's mind's eye, the sheep looks out on a purple "moon." Of course today, in the age of digital manipulation, we no longer expect truth when confronting an image (not that truth was ever necessarily there to begin with), but DeMarte's photographs challenge us to reconsider what is true when faced with subtle lies (the diorama as natural world) and blatant lies (the photoshoped desires of his animal subjects.) - KLH

Rule Gallery
227 Broadway
Denver, CO 80203

photos by Ken Hamel/DenverArts.org

(from the press release)

Jason DeMarte makes full, unapologetic use of Photoshop in order to remind us about our artificial relationship with nature and our fetishism of consumer objects. In the artist's first exhibition at RULE Gallery, "Utopic," the artist presents a photographic body of work that explores the nature of consumption and the absurd stereotypes with which certain products are often associated. The flattened, highly saturated space-less decorative way that DeMarte organizes his images creates a purposeful sense of dislocation and disconnection.

Jason DeMarte was born in Louisiana in 1973 but spent most of his childhood in Colorado. Growing up in Colorado's natural beauty had a profound effect on DeMarte, an effect that is evident in his work to this day. After attending school pursuing a degree in science, Jason decided he could investigate his interests in the natural world better with Photography. Jason DeMarte is currently on leave from Mississippi State and teaching photography at the University of New Mexico. He received his B.F.A. in Photography from Colorado State University and then his M.F.A in Photography from the University of Oregon. Previous to teaching in Mississippi, Jason taught photography for three years at Zayed University, an all Muslim women's University in the United Arab Emirates. His work has been exhibited in galleries including the Chelsea Galleria in Miami, Pacific Northwest Center for Photography in Portland OR. New Life Gallery in Berlin Germany, University of the Art Gallery in Philadelphia, Irene Carlson Gallery of Photography in L.A. Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the Total Arts Gallery in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. His work has also appeared in journals and publications including Photography Now and Photo Review.

In his first exhibition at RULE Gallery, Ronnie B. Johnson describes his current body of photographs as a hybrid study in contrasts by capturing images with 4x5 black and white film as well as a high-end digital camera. The end result produces images about light and darkness, stillness and motion, and time and space. By studying how these contrasts exist in the wilderness, Johnson seizes the perfect moment, which captures the beauty and emotion of the landscape.

Johnson has been focusing on the Platinum and Palladium printing process, which dates back to the 1870's and has been used by such photographers as Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Edward Weston among many others. Platinum prints are prized for the extended tonal range and archival abilities, both of which are unmatched by any other photographic printing process. In 2009, Johnson will graduate from the Art Institute of Colorado. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Abecedarian Gallery, Denver, CO and The Denver Creative Co-op Studio.

Jason DeMarte - Jellied Preserve (2008)

Ronnie B. Johnson - Omen (2008)