Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Sublimation of grief is a partial remedy that artists can use to make life more bearable. Julia Vandenoever, having lost her mother to cancer and her brother to addiction, was able to see connections between her own childhood and that of her own children growing up, with parallel events and feelings allowing her to overcome some of the pain through visual narration. The result is this appealing photobook. As she says, “By recreating my memories, I put my family of origin back together again. Still Breathing is a meditation on loss and remembering. Distilling the chaos was a healing process for me.”
Intergenerational and gestalt therapy also function in a similar manner: by calling to our minds past experiences with those who are gone, and visualizing moments and feelings, we can apply them to the present and to our life that is yet to come. We gain an understanding of the kind of guardianship our folks felt for us and passed down to us, and we realize that we have their approval and guidance for us as we become guardians for our children, our students, our neighbors and friends. Welcome to joyful as well as stressful adulthood…
The finesse with which Vandenoever visually blends past and present is quite astounding. Photographs with bright colors, depicting the activities of her youthfully exuberant children, are juxtaposed with recorded moments of joy of the past. The connecting element is nature with its abundance of moments of cessation as well as new growth. Within those realms, the children’s games such as hide-and-seek hint at the searching soul of the photographer in her searching for meaningful continuity. The tentative, almost furtive nature of some of the images allows us to share her sensing of the impermanence of our existence. While contemplating past and present, we share the author’s process of creating an ongoing, revised family legacy that permits continued breathing.
The design contains a number of innovations: an actual sticky note is attached to the page with a vast array of flowers, as you can see below. An actual snapshot is inserted toward the end of the book as a memento for all of us. The poetic language of Julia Vandenoever gives us a glimpse of her innermost struggles. Her explanations in the artist statement provide valuable detail about the genesis and progress of the project.
This photobook is a particularly good example of the effective use of visual narration in sharing losses and gains in a person’s process of attempting to understand the vagaries of time. Highly recommended.
Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Julia Vandenoever –Still Breathing
Photographer: Julia Vandenoever (born in New York City; lives and works in Boulder, Colorado, USA); Instagram @juliavandenoever
Self-Published: Gray Sky Press, Colorado; © 2021
Text: Poetic recollections and artist statement – Julia Vandenoever
Hardcover, fabric, printed, sewn; 84 pages, unpaginated; 7.75 x 9.25 inches (19.5 x 23.5 cm). Edition: 100
Design: Julia Vandenoever
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are © of the authors and publishers.