Pink Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium acaule
photograph on canvas
30 x 37 1/2"
Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides
photograph on canvas
30 x 37 1/2"
Downy Yellow Violet
Turk's-Cap Lily, Lilium superbum
photograph on canvas
30 x 37 1/2"
Dwarf Iris, Iris verna
photograph on canvas
40 x 32"
Artistic and scientific evolution fascinates me.
Homo sapiens evolved over 200,000 years ago-momentary, relatively speaking. They were preceded for millions of years by other hominids. Cave paintings and engravings date back roughly 14,000 to 40,000 years ago. An extremely short time. Fast forward along the artistic timeline to the 1400 and 1500’s with Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo and Realism in the mid- to late 1800’s.
Then my mind recalls a cabbage butterfly preserved in amber that suggests they fluttered around the heads of dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. And here I am a homo sapien in the early 21st century with a box concocted by another homo sapien with a cabbage butterfly in focus through the lens of that box in hopes that I might preserve it in a split second.
My photographs capture indigenous flora, fauna, and light. After arduous hours, and sometimes years, of observing and sketching in my mind’s eye, an indigenous plant finally rests in the rectangle of my viewfinder. How do I freeze it in time as I see it? How does the gesture of the stem, the mass of the bloom, the tension of the leaves breakup the space? How does the natural color and direction of the light reflect the atmosphere? How can I compose a simple image that compliments the complexity of a subject that has evolved over eons?
Reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg’s monumental sculpture of small objects, a larger than life image emerges highlighting the intricate architecture of the often tiny plant against a soft quiet background achieved by advancing the length of the lens with a wide open aperture. The light portrayed by Vermeer, Renoir, and Mapplethorpe in his “Y Portfolio” of thirteen flowers and the rejected gestural brushwork of Olitski's color field paintings come to mind. Irresistibly drawn to depicting life as they uniquely see it with a passion for outwardly actualizing what resides within, all are in the timeline.
For now, it’s me and my camera flat on the ground. Every nuance and nanosecond counts.
- Jackie Bailey Labovitz
Jackie Bailey Labovitz and Memorial Life
Flowers. Native flowers. How much to you know about them? Appreciate them? Love them? Enough to get up before dawn? Enough to trek through the woods mile after mile, day after day? In the rain? Ok, what about this: would you crawl on your belly in the dirt just for a glimpse of one? Would you wait years to see a flower blossom, if it ever blossoms? Would you do all of these things and more, now with a camera?
Working in the tradition of great landscape photographers and inspired by, the 12 native species Thomas Jefferson grew in his own gardens at Monticello, Jackie Bailey Labovitz’s most recent portfolio—the Understory—documents both Jefferson’s flowers and other native species she finds beneath the canopy and in the understory of the woods in rural Virginia. The flowers she photographs are diminutive, rarely over 14 inches in height, and short-lived, blossoming as little as one or two days a year. To capture images of these woodland recluses, Labovitz must be extremely persistent, knowledgeable, and, yes, lucky. She must be able to know native plants by their habitat and leaves, and then be fortunate enough to return and find them undamaged and blooming in exactly the right light. Shooting begins in early spring, when some of the species are the first to emerge from even frozen ground, and continues until the end of spring, when some species emerge in a riot of growth.
To prepare the plants for shooting, Labovitz, grooms—or clears—the area about the plant and then gets down on her belly so that she might shoot the blooms looking up or head on. The early plants are shot against a background of leaf litter, while the later plants are shot against a background of green. Labovitz shoots all of the flowers with a shallow depth of field so the backgrounds are thrown out of focus and so the flowers are brought into very careful relief as specimens of their species. Labovitz pays particular attention to light, shooting just as the sun is coming up over the canopy or just as it is sinking towards the horizon, so that she might capture the desired physicality of each of the blossoms.
Looking at Labovitz’s images reminds one how little attention we pay to our natural world in particular and to the world around us in general. In an age dominated by visual communication, Labovitz is teaching us not just to appreciate her flowers, but also how to look and really see. The photographs show the anatomical detail of their subjects, how, for example, the receptacles of Wild Columbine hang off of their inverted pedicels or how the anthers of Bloodroot weigh on their filaments, things we tend to overlook but are delighted by when we focus.
Labovitz is particularly adept at capturing plant behavior and gestural qualities. Her image of the Trout Lily captures the dramatic presentation of its curving leaves, while that of the Rue-anemone captures the delicate venation of the flower petals. Separated as the plants are from their natural contexts, these specimen blossoms look simultaneously sculptural and ephemeral, familiar and alien.
Through careful manipulation point of view, Labovitz gives her flowers a remarkable stature that can tell us a lot about life on Earth. Many of the flowers are endangered or threatened species, while others are absolutely unapologetic in their demands for life: they survive by being toxic to predators or developing fungal relationships with trees. They remind us of the untold millions of early and experimental life forms that show up in the fossil records of the Burgess shale, of what is yet unseen at the depths of the ocean, and of what grows at the borders of our untended lawns. With their opportunistic, sun-tuned heads, these flowers speak to causality, individualism, community, evolution, and the arc of life. They praise fecundity and, at the same time, preface death. Indeed, these remarkable photographs are worth every of Labovitz’s labors and are very much deserving of our own rapt attention.
*For those who are interested, here is the list of 12 native species Thomas Jefferson grew in his garden at Monticello: Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica), Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis), Pink Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium acaule), Yellow Lady’s-slipper (Cyripedium parviflorum), Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta), Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), Canada Lily (Lilium canadense), Turk’s-cap Lily (Lilium superbum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata).
John A Haslem, Jr.
Understory: A Perspective on Painting with Light
Tuesday, November 12, 6p.m.
Jackie Bailey Labovitz
click to view .pdf
Washington City Paper
The Best D.C. Photography Exhibits of 2013
Posted by Louis Jacobson on Dec. 23, 2013
If you wanted to see good photography in D.C. in 2013, you had lots of options. Sweeping historical surveys? Sure. Tech-forward experiments? Yep. Landscapes, scientific images, personal explorations? Check, check, and check. Here, in descending order, are my picks for the best photographic exhibits in the Washington area this year.
8. "Understory" at the U.S. Botanic Garden
Jackie Bailey Labovitz spends hours at a time in the forests of the Shenandoah Valley, seeking out telltale splotches of color lurking just inches above the forest floor. When she finds these delicate and transitory flowers, she photographs them using a long lens and available light, then prints the images on canvas. The most subtly elegant aspect of her work, however, is the recurring background—a dreamy, out-offocus mélange of green tones that suggest color-field paintings.
Jackie Bailey Labovitz lives in Washington DC and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her photographs are an extension of her early interest in insects and animals, encountered in carefully constructed, moss-carpeted woodland huts punctuated by escapes to the open, sun-drenched heat of the Virginia landscape. She captured butterflies in Mason jars, meticulously mounted them in discarded cigar boxes, and returned to cooler spaces inhabited by frogs, turtles, chipmunks, and rabbits.
After earning a BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and receiving a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she relocated to Washington, DC, where she currently shares time between the downtown district and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. As a professional art curator, two of her corporate collections reside in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. As an artist/photographer her work is included in collections at the National Academy of Sciences, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Museum of the Shenandoah Valley where, among many other places, she has exhibited her work.
Her photographs of indigenous plants and animals are captured in natural light with a long lens and a shallow depth of field. With the assistance of her scientifically inclined, Renaissance husband, she maintains complete control of the printing and presentation of her vision. The final large-scale images are printed on canvas, finished and stretched in her studio.
Nothing is left to chance-but nature.
born 1951 Danville, VAeducation
public collections1977 Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, BFA
John Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute – Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore, MDLewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Henrico VAMuseum of the Shenandoah Valley, Winchester VANational Academy of Sciences, Washington DCThomas Jefferson Foundation, Charlottesville, VA
Jackie Bailey Labovitz discusses the Understory