Shelley Jacobson

Shelley Jacobson is a New Zealand artist whose photographic works are about environments, both urban and natural, altered and untouched. A lot of the photographs have the same effect on me as standing above a great height, they are overwhelming and I have this urge to jump. Obviously I can't jump into a photograph, but with their big empty spaces these photos are still almost physically compelling. As for those great heights, needless to say I'm afraid of them.

In New Zealand Jacobson travels to areas that have been altered by humans, such as mines and quarries, and documents these wounds on, and healing of, natural landscapes.

Jacobson's work in Japan focuses on the intimate urban landscape. Here the man-made landscape is framed by its natural environment, or in my favourite photograph, (wo)man frames the natural.  In the portrait of the tree you can see a little golden plaque on its trunk. That is there to explain that the tree was damaged by, yet survived, one of the atomic bombs. Apparently there are these trees in various locations in Japan all with their own plaques. I guess they are symbols of hope and resilience, and in the context of Jacobson's work it is symbolic on a dual level; for both nature and humans.

The theme of destruction follows through to even completely natural landscapes. The Sea of Trees series documents, in Jacobson's words, "the Japanese suicide landmark Aokigahara-jukai" and its "socially constructed spatial boundary". So even in the natural the human leaves an horrific mark, albeit not a physical one.

While this knowledge about the meaning and intent behind the work can enrich the viewing experience, the first encounter with these photographs is incredibly evocative without any context. It's almost a shame that I explained to you their meaning first. Free of any figures, Jacobson's photos have that same still, peaceful quality that I've talked about before with interiors photography. But instead of this absence creating an absence of meaning, more possibilities are actually created for the viewer. In the absolute stillness of these images I can hear myself crunching through the snow and foliage of the trees, or the echo of a stone being thrown into the goldmine.

Jacobson has called her approach at times "consciously mundane and systematic", but far from this resulting in sterile images, they are curiously compelling and personal.

all images from Shelley Jacobson's website

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