I’ve lived in Springfield, Missouri, my whole life, in the same neighbourhood, surrounded by my five sisters. Springfield’s right in the middle of the US, the generic American town. I’m inspired by everyday things – like this Fedex truck delivering a chair. I like to exaggerate what I see and experience, though, like writers and film-makers do. There’s a point when it becomes fiction, but what should come through is the stress, chaos, darkness and charm of everyday life.
It was 2009 and I wanted an Egg chair really badly. It was getting ridiculous. My sisters and I were always talking about how we loved antiques, but now we were wondering about going modern. I was torn by this completely shallow conversation. This is what life can be like: all that matters is that the chair has finally arrived, even though there’s a kid suffocating himself with bubble-wrap.
I was inspired by a famous Norman Rockwell painting called Moving Day. I love how he pictured suburbia, with its lawns going off into the distance, and a truck unloading like this one. I found the same type of view outside my sister’s house, but it took some time to get all the elements to work visually. It meant addressing things like lighting, angles and what time of day to shoot.
Although I use my family as models, my work isn’t completely about us. They’re just easy to work with as they’re always around me. The children here are my nieces and nephews, mostly, since my own kids are too big to use now. I like using small children because their little bodies lend a particular kind of humour – and they fit into the frame better than giant Americans. I also like the lack of self-awareness they have when they’re under seven. It would be hard to do my work with actors, because sometimes it’s the things I don’t plan that make the picture – like this bubble-wrap. I didn’t know he was going to do that.
Kids are darling, of course, but they can be really disturbing. For instance, I caught my little niece Thelma trying to strangle her cousin the other day. My sister said it was just her way of showing love, but that’s so weird. The girl didn’t look very loving – she looked like she wanted to kill, and you would never expect that from a beautiful blond-haired all-American beauty. Happening upon random things like that is so powerful: it shows there’s a side to beauty that’s also creepy and weird.
This shot is actually made up of several images, all taken on the same set at the same time of day. I had to reshoot the kids in the grass because they were too far away at first. Although I concentrate on details, at the end of the day the image has to work as a seamless whole. This method might be relatively new to photography, but it isn’t to things like painting or film. Van Eyck worked that way, putting details from lots of different paintings into one image. Not much has changed except the tools.
Julie Blackmon’s CV
Born: Springfield, Missouri, 1966.
Studied: A mixture of schooling and self-taught.
Influences: Sally Mann, Jan Steen, Edward Gory.
High point: “I had a show in Springfield that everyone I’ve ever known came to. It was like being at my own funeral, but better because I didn’t have to die.”
Low point: “Technical disasters like the time I overwrote my hard drive.”
Top tip: “Work every day to stay inspired. Don’t worry about where the work ends up or what happens to it.”