Up and Down the Generations
By Joanne Luktish
Judith Black made her professional reputation with images of the moments and moods of her growing children. She has represented her family and self in traditional silver gelatin photographs for over 25 years and has recently added digital color images to her portfolio. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Fogg Art Museum. In 1986 she received a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Drawing upon contemporary feminist reflections on the importance of women’s work in the home, Black asserted her difference from the conventions of family photographs. Using a large format camera, Black portrayed a scene where her children, her husband, and her extended family acknowledged the presence of the camera within their domestic life as witness. The resulting photographs were straightforward, yet carefully composed, revealing the lives and vulnerabilities of their subjects, yet not only that. Black’s titles identify the sitters and dates, and often add a parenthetical edgy remark or deliver a judgment.
The photographs illustrated here are both similar to and different from her earlier work. Black now makes images by joining individual prints into a single scene, gaining a larger scale and new ways of making meaning. In the sensuality of the blond curls of a daughter in early pregnancy, the simultaneous intimacy and strangeness of the doubled images of a son and his girlfriend, the intimations of the outside world—both benign and guarded—that surrounds a sleeping grandchild, Black can be recognized as an artist reflecting on the lives of grown children and grandchildren. In contrast, her color digital snapshot images of her inlaws present reactions rather than reflection, photography as a way of taking a measure of her life and her future.
Black has long evaluated her practice of taking family photographs in relation to historical and theoretical accounts of family imagery. Her art brings to our sight the work of motherhood across the stages of an individual life.
Joanne Lukitsh is a professor of art history at Massachusetts College of Art, in the Department of Critical Studies.