Sarah Jones b. 1959

Literature

Brian Dillon, David Campany, A.M. Homes,Sarah Jones, Violette Editions, p8, illus colour, full page

Description

When we turn to her Rose Gardens series it is hard to imagine a method that would more successfully sequester its subject than the one in evidence here. The darkness in the images is a ruse of the artist's; she takes them in broad daylight, but they are radically underexposed and so rely on a flash to produce the image. We are left with the roses themselves against pure (or mostly pure) black backgrounds. It's easy with these pictures to note their debt to still-life painting, and especially to certain Dutch studies of blooms at the point of decay, their petals dropping silently in front of a painted void that is both the perfect ground for their delicate outlines and precious chromatic presence, and at the same time a depthless reminder of mortality. But that is surely just the first of the photographs' reference points, and still life in general only the most obvious way of accounting for their peculiar combination of flatness and depth, intimacy and theatricality. Because the Roses Gardens pictures are also profoundly photographic, or more precisely have to do cannily and poetically with photography's relation to the mirror and the void.

How to describe the darkness in these images? In one sense it's a fictional darkness, a darkness that never existed, a theatrical darkness confected so that the principal or protagonist may be illuminated. And like the stage flats of a theatre, this darkness oscillates between depth and surface: we know and refuse to know that the eye is being deceived. In his essay on the sublime Edmund Burke speaks of the physical and mental labour (and the consequent pain, as he puts it) that darkness demands, and there is something of that distress in looking at Jones's work, as we try to latch on to something, anything, in the void. It's a surprise, though not necessarily a relief, to come across an early picture in the series that includes a patch of sky framed by foliage. And to return to painting for a moment, there is of course a certain history of the monochrome at work here, from Malevich's black square of 1915, back through a lineage of black pages (because we are of course speaking in the context of this book) in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Robert Fludd's Tractatus.'

Brian Dillon, David Campany, A.M. Homes, Sarah Jones, Violette Editions, Brian Dillon writing in the Chapter 'Unfolding', p152-153

I was looking at one of those rose prints this morning and thinking about the effect of the lighting I have used. The light falls on the foreground, on the first couple of planes, which makes the subject feel as though it's been pushed to the surface of the photographic space, isolating the subject; it reminds me of pressed flowers. I remember finding some in a second-hand novel once. When you open the page, you've got that double-take - something picked, a totem, up against language, fiction. It made me think about the photograph as a keepsake, the way that pressed flowers are'.

Brian Dillon, David Campany, A.M. Homes, Sarah Jones, Violette Editions, Sarah Jones, quoted in the Chapter 'Still Life', p164