Whitworth University 2020 Faculty Biennial

Julie Gautier-Downes Part 1

Welcome back.  Over the next couple of days we will take a look at the piece presented by Julie Gautier-Downes and what she had to say about it as well as other things she has made.  But first, her Artist Statement:

“Where we are going there were no lit-up houses only dying ones.” -Eugene Richards

In any given landscape there are moments, which tell a story about a place and the people that dwell there. In a metropolis or a ghost town these moments of loneliness and abandonment that can be looked over or forgotten. It is in these spaces that there is an opportunity to see and understand the world in a different way. By exploring, collecting and photographing the world as an archaeologist or detective gives intensity to the seemingly banal and ordinary.

The absence of the human figure in the work provides a space for the viewer to project themselves into the desolate and abandoned environments that are captured. By pairing photographs of these deserted and abandoned environments with found personal items it provides fertile ground for narratives to emerge. The items collected are items one might find in a family album or desk drawer and provides a strong connection to the missing figure.

The types of spaces that are captured range greatly from the haunted skeletal frame of a failed dream house to a forgotten city by a manmade sea that has a vibrant past. The ghostly representation of the locations exposes moments of quietness, sadness, and abandonment. In some cases, these places are desolate due to a tragedy or economic down turn and the images and collected items speak to the way in which it happened.

It is the universality of loss that allows the viewer to find the beauty in these abandoned spaces and objects. With the hope that it enlightens them to see how sublime life is and how connected we are to each other.

Untitled Photograph, inkjet print, 2014, 30×40 inches, $1000.

I asked Julie if she could share any other specific information about the location of the structure we see in this image, to which she replied, “This photograph was made in the Eastern Sierra on Highway 395 just south of Mono Lake. I saw the house while I was driving back from Bodie (an abandoned town from the Gold Rush) in Northern California. Other images from this series were made in the disused towns around the Salton Sea and in the Mojave Desert (specifically the Morongo Basin eastern San Bernardino County).”

When I asked Julie what is it she wants a viewer to take away from this image, she had this to say, “I hope the viewer will take away a sense of longing or quiet contemplation. This image shows a house that has been left behind in this idyllic mountain landscape. Because it is an exterior view, the house is mysterious, the viewer is stuck on the outside. This inability to enter the space to learn more, offered me a lot of room to build a story through the other images I juxtaposed it with in the final series, “At A Loss”. 

For me this image is as much about the beauty of the landscape and the structure’s decay as it is about the ideas I hope to share. I showed this work in a show in Santa Cruz a few years ago, during the reception, I once heard someone telling others that this image was a digital composite because it was too perfectly captured and printed. I found that funny, but I did not correct him. I spend a good amount of time editing a digital image (or printing in the darkroom) to recreate the conditions I captured it in or the way I saw the scene. As I tell my students, our eyes are much more powerful than our cameras, so we have to be careful in the exposures we make and in our postproduction of the images. For me, the process of capturing, editing, and printing an image is a formal art process. After the image has been printed, I build a narrative through the images I select to place side by side to create a series.”

Check back tomorrow for more from Julie, and for those interested in seeing more of her work, she can be found online at 


or on Instagram @juliegautierdownes

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