b. 1969, Warsaw, New York
Lives and works in New York, NY
Justine Kurland is known for her utopian photographs of American landscapes and the fringe communities, both real and imagined, that inhabit them. Her early work comprises photographs, taken during many cross-country road trips, which reveal the double-edged nature of the American dream. In series such as Golden Dawn (2001-2003) and Mama Babies (2004-2007), Kurland presents a reality where utopia and dystopia are not polar opposites, but rather fold together in an uneasy coexistence. In speaking about her first and, perhaps, most celebrated body of work, Girl Pictures (1997-2002), Kurland describes her practice as navigating “the spectrum between the perfect and the real.” The artist’s most recent body of work, however, eschews her former itinerant lifestyle with pictures that focus instead on the intimate, private spaces of her New York apartment or her mother’s home in rural Virginia.
Justine Kurland was born in 1969 in Warsaw, New York. She received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York in 1996, and her MFA from Yale University in 1998. Her work has been exhibited extensively at museums and galleries in the United States and abroad. Her recent gallery exhibitions include Girl Pictures, 1997-2002 at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York (2018) and Airless Spaces at Higher Pictures, New York (2018). Museum exhibitions have included The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit (2016), Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009) and Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. (2009). Kurland was also the focus of a solo exhibition at CEPA in Buffalo, NY (2009). Her work is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art, New York; the International Center of Photography, New York; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and, the Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, among others.
All images © Justine Kurland.
THIS LONG CENTURY is an ever-evolving collection of personal insights from artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and cultural icons the world over. Bringing together such intimate work as sketchbooks, personal memorabilia, annotated typescripts, short essays, home movies and near impossible to find archival work, THIS LONG CENTURY serves as a direct line to the contributors themselves.
Photography has two relations to art. It can be an art in itself – expressive, subjective, creative, inventive. It can be the mechanical means by which all the other visual arts – from painting and sculpture to performance – are documented, reproduced and publicized. What we know of art, we often know through photographic images of it. Paintings we have never seen in real life. Sculptures we have never walked around.
As part of Topic's Federal Project No. 2: Re-examining America, Justine Kurland on Fulton, New York is published alongside Walker Evans on Altanta, Georgia from 1936.
I want to tell you why I sold my van. It’s not the first van I’ve left behind but it might be the last. I would like to publicly renounce a belief system that once seemed useful and true to me; I’ve outgrown the romantic escapism of this mode of travel. The boy who bought my van was excited to have it. He had just graduated from Bard and was planning to use it to drive to Marfa, where he had an internship. I felt like I was passing a baton. But exactly what kind of baton was it? Few things in the popular imagination are as symbolically loaded as cars. Or as guitars, for that matter. But let me start with vans.
American photographers and mothers Justine Kurland and Winona Barton-Ballentine make work about the search for self-defined space, from inside of the home to out on the road. In celebration of Winona Barton-Ballentine's site-specific Photo Walls n Picture Collection exhibition Wild Stainless, Kurland and Barton-Ballentine converse about how culture, gender, social class, and motherhood, among other things, affect the desire for self-reinvention through the shaping of one’s surroundings; and how this is explored in photography and literature.
Justine Kurland is included in the Montclair Art Museum group exhibition Work and Leisure in American Art: Selected Works from the Collection.
Featuring the works of Catherine Opie and Justine Kurland, America in View reveals a nation's ambitions and failings, beauty and loss, politics and personal stories through about 150 photographs spanning nearly 150 years.
Photographs : photographs by Justine Kurland CEPA Gallery 617 Main Street Buffalo, New York June 27 - August 22, 2009 New York City based Justine Kurland was born in Warsaw, NY, and is returning to her Western New York roots for her first exhibition in the region.
When Justine Kurland first started staging photographs of girls play-acting as runaways and castoffs in the late 1990s, setting them loose in woods and beaches and highways to do what teenagers do, she had Holden and Huckleberry on the mind. She was activating an alluring yet flawed mythology of exploration and self-sufficiency, recasting it with girls as the protagonists for once. Her subjects are puckish adolescents at a precipice in their lives. They come in twos or threes or tens; they wear tank tops and baggy jeans, hair loose, sometimes shoeless, their very own band of lost girls fleeing from adulthood itself.
Welcome to Ways of Seeing, where two artists sit down to discuss the nuances of their work, trade industry secrets, and fill each other in on their latest projects. The only catch? One of them is on staff at W magazine. In this week’s edition, visuals editor Michael Beckert chats with Justine Kurland. Originally from Warsaw, Poland, the photographer now resides in New York City. Her book Girl Pictures, which hit shelves in May, depicts young women she shot while road tripping across the North American wilderness in the Nineties and early Aughts.
Between 1997 and 2002, Justine Kurland travelled across the North American wilderness, capturing teenage girls in a series of staged images that express freedom and a new kind of utopia. She looks back on the project’s significance here
Girl Pictures (1997-2002) -- in which young women confidently occupy the forests, open highways and roadsides of America that belong, by default, to men -- recently became a book, inviting fresh appreciation for the relevance of its themes 20 years after being made. The images published in this article, much like those in Girl Pictures, and ones that can be found in the public collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum, and International Center of Photography, New York, revel in “the double-edged nature of the American dream”, an intoxicating mix of freedom and darkness. Here, Justine talks us through a few of the pictures.
Locking eyes with a cowboy through the cinema screen is perhaps our most familiar insight into the North American frontier. Gunshots, gloomy saloons and stony-faced outlaws form the bedrock of the ‘wild west’ in our imagination, thanks to its feature as a recurring backdrop to some of Hollywood’s classics. While the cowboy quest might continue to thrive on the cinema screen, photographer Justine Kurland turns her lens to this dramatic landscape for a wholly different purpose. There are no cowboys in her work. Instead, the South Western plains become the realm of another kind of adventurer – the runaway teenage girl.
What would a photographed utopia look like? While the origins of photography coincided with the birth of various nineteenth-century utopian schemes, human society has never seemed further from realizing them, in part due to developments in technology—including the production and distribution of images—that seek to solidify social surveillance and control.
In the late 1990s, photographer Justine Kurland imagined runaway girls roaming the American landscape -- gathering in the woods, along highways and in open fields. Instead of encountering danger, these wayward spirits would form a sylvan utopia where girls could make their own rules.
When we think of wild America, it’s likely it conjures masculine, rather than feminine, visions – from John Wayne cowboy tropes roaming the desert to truckers pulling into dinners nestled on a long-stretch of road. It’s a cliche that photographer Justine Kurland was all too aware of when she began shooting her series Girl Pictures in 1997. For five years, until 2002, Kurland travelled the North American landscape, staging images of girls as “fearless and free, tender and fierce”.
Kurland’s series of images of teenage American girls, taken between 1997 and 2002 are now featured in a 20th-anniversary book by published by Aperture. Justine Kurland: Girl Pictures – includes newly discovered and previously unpublished images. All photographs by Justine Kurland; story by Rebecca Bengal
Kurland started out on her quest in New Haven’s semi-industrial hinterland before travelling further afield over the next five years on a mazy road trip; if the girls were on the margins, then she would be too. She loosely choreographed the groups of teenagers that she found, but mostly invited the girls into a promising setting and let them do their thing. She took this photograph of four girls in an abandoned car in the millennium year, and called it Shipwrecked. The girls she chose invariably understood the idea of the pictures. “I can always spot people,” she has said. “It’s, like, really one of my superpowers. I can always tell which teenage girls would love living in the woods with their friends.”
Around the time she started working on a 2018 gallery show for Girl Pictures, a set of gorgeous portraits of teenage girls at play, shot between 1997 and 2002, the photographer Justine Kurland did something that proved just how much she had changed in the past 20 years. Long associated with road trips and an Edenic view of the American West, Kurland sold her van and called it quits on the quasi-nomadic life that had fueled her art for years.
“The mothers in my photographs live in a world without men, in maternal bliss, embracing the pleasures of an animal existence. But when I look at Oneonta Gorge, Log Jammed Crevice, I see Casper instead, balanced on my hip as I manoeuvre my camera on its tripod. He had made up a little chant, something like, ‘We photograph mama babies, we photograph mama babies, we photograph… .’ and sang to me as I made pictures. The original utopian impulse of the work now bends toward the memory of that sound.”
Justine Kurland admits to having “terrible timing” when it comes to publishing photography books. “The first book I made with Aperture, Highway Kind, was released the day Trump was elected, and now Girl Pictures comes out in the middle of Covid-19,” she writes to AnOther over email as her latest book is published. The photographs in Girl Pictures were taken 20 years ago, and depict unruly teenagers in the equally wild landscapes of America. Kurland staged her “standing army” of teenage runaways as independent, unapologetic and fearless. “My runaways built forts in idyllic forests and lived communally in a perpetual state of youthful bliss,” the New York-based photographer writes in Girl Pictures, this new Aperture edition of which includes previously unpublished images from the series. “I wanted to make the communion between girls visible, foregrounding their experiences as primary and irrefutable.” A short story by Rebecca Bengal entitled The Jeremys is published in Girl Pictures, and encapsulates this longing for rebellion.
The Camp Fire began on the clear morning of November 8, 2018, which made it eerier still, a radiant sky that turned black. Through the pines and cedars came the persistent sound of crackling foil. Propane tanks exploded like bombs. Most people in Butte County had lived through multiple fires before—this is northern California, this is wildfire country—but no one had seen one like this, so fast and enveloping. No one had experienced the unique horror of watching the hospital burn, or the Safeway, as flames lapped at the sides of their own cars on the one main road out. No one had witnessed a whole town go.
This month, Higher Pictures gallery presents Airless Spaces, a selection of new works from photographer Justine Kurland, alongside still-life paintings by her late father, Bruce Kurland. The exhibition is intimately arranged, with Bruce’s small-scale paintings interspersed amongst Justine’s 4×5 inch prints. Viewed in this way, we are witness to an unspoken relationship between father and daughter, expressed in the ways that each interprets the world around them. Though varying in terms of aesthetic rendering, both Justine and Bruce’s work illustrates an interior world through an array of symbolic objects.
Justine Kurland’s monograph Highway Kind (2016) includes a short fictional piece by Lynne Tillman titled “Still Moving,” a collection of scenes that appear to be set in a single working-class town. Toward the beginning, one of Tillman’s characters finds herself struck with a moment of awe in an otherwise bleak world: “Estranged mountains bulged under the sky, the big sky, the endless sky. Anyway, no one could see an end to it, which reassured her, since so much seemed to be coming to an end. It felt that way.” This passage echoed in my head as I viewed “Airless Spaces,” an intimate presentation of Kurland’s new photographs alongside paintings by her late father, Bruce Kurland (1938–2013).
At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Kurland’s series, exhibited for the first time in its entirety, was cinematic in spirit. The sixty-nine vintage C-prints hung in a single line around the gallery. The narrative opened with a photograph taken in the postindustrial landscape of New Haven, Connecticut, and continued across multiple road trips that Kurland took over the course of five years. In these staged images, her subjects absorb themselves in activities by and for each other, from drawing on one another’s backs to killing small game. They could be plucked from sundry girl-centric films of the 1990s—think Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999) or Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women (1994). Wearing threadbare, slouchy clothes, sans makeup, and often with no men in sight, these girls “act” more often than “appear”—to reverse the terms of John Berger’s famous phrase, “Men act and women appear.”
Starting in New Haven, where she was finishing her graduate studies at Yale, Kurland drove across the country (with a stint in New Zealand) photographing adolescent girls in scenes that are part bucolic idyll, part Lord of the Flies. A gritty, outlaw narrative connects scenes often photographed with the composition and soft light of 19th-century landscape paintings. (Kurland named her son Caspar, after all, for Caspar David Friedrich.) Three of the images have “Boy Torture” in in their titles, but unless the girls are tormenting one, boys seldom feature. Sex simmers under the surface, not to mention – and more importantly – self-sufficiency. These ad hoc communities of young women are precursors to Kurland’s series a few years later, Of Woman Born, pastoral photographs of naked mothers and their small naked children who seem just as self-reliant.
In recent years, on Instagram and in fashion magazines, a girl-centric aesthetic has taken hold. Young photographers such as Petra Collins, Olivia Bee, and Mayan Toledano have been capturing the private rites and practices of adolescents—in school, at parties, on road trips, alone in their bedrooms. The style, pretty and wistful, straddles fashion, fine art, even reportage. We might see a shapely young arm raised to reveal a hint of armpit hair; dewy skin dappled by disco lights; girls huddled around a mirror, putting on makeup.
The runaways of Justine Kurland’s Girl Pictures, 1997–2002—feral teens living in moody, thrill-seeking packs at the gorgeous outskirts of civilization—bear a more than passing resemblance to the Runaways. It’s as though the members of the legendary seventies girl band wandered away from their tour bus at a highway rest stop and just kept going. What would their raw rebellion and sexual self-possession look like offstage, without an audience, in the wild? Kurland answers with sixty-nine transfixing photographs.
“I staged the girls as a standing army of teenaged runaways in resistance to patriarchal ideals,” she says. “The girls in these photographs have gathered together in solidarity, claiming territory outside the margins of family and institutions.” Kurland would scout evocative locations, often with links to the 19th-century Western frontier, and recruit her youthful subjects from local towns and schools. “I never knew where I would end up or whom I would find,” she says, “so it was impossible to predetermine the outcome. I allowed my narratives to unravel as I constructed them. I wanted the pictures to contain both my projection and the actuality of the situation.”
Throughout her career, photographer Justine Kurland has trained her lens on divergent subjects both documentary and staged: young girls, nude mothers, men at auto body shops. Across her work, there’s a muted sense of romance, of both gritty desire and desperation. Kurland relishes gravel, fences, dead animals, cell phone towers, broken windows, and car engines. Now a mother herself, she’s ultimately outgrown the label that once reductively described her young, female cohort who captured even younger women on rolls of film: “girl photographers.”
The photographer Justine Kurland didn’t learn how to drive until she was 27, a year before she set off on a two-decade-long road trip. At the time, she was an M.F.A. candidate at Yale working on her now-iconic series “Girl Pictures” (1997-2002), staged portraits of adolescent girls cast as runaways wandering beneath highway overpasses and mucking around in roadside drainage ditches. At first she stayed close to home, shooting in and around New Haven, Conn., but eventually she began traveling farther afield; she wanted her own process to reflect the stories her images told. “If the girls were running away,” she tells T, “then it made sense that I should, too.”
The girls were rebelling. The girls were acting out. The girls had run away from home, that much was clear. They were trying on a version of themselves that the world had thus far shown them was boy. FLoating a raft downt he Mississippi. Tucking smokes into the sleve of a T-shirt. Having a rumble. Living off the land. Cowboys, sailors, pirates, hitchhikers, hobos, train hoppers, explorers, catchers in the rye, lords of the flies – you name it, all the dominion of boys. If you wanted a place in the narrative, you had to imagine yourself inside of it.
Between 1997 and 2002, Justine Kurland traveled across the United States photographing girls living vastly different lives, but all in the tenuous places between childhood and adulthood. Kurland printed all 69 pictures taken over the four-year period for the first time this year, two decades after the project began. This is the first time they appear as a complete series.
Kurland’s “Of Woman Born” series (2005–06) takes its name from a 1978 text by feminist poet Adrienne Rich, which argues that women should oppose the restrictive maternal roles prescribed by patriarchal society.
In Highway Kind, we see Justine Kurland's on-the-road photographs as if through a film of fantasy - a very masculine, very American fantasy, about freedom and self-reliance and the big wide open.
After years traversing the U.S. in a van, the photographer and her son sit down for a candid interview.
Photography that toes a line between documentary work and fine art may intrinsically contain half-truths, but that does not strip it of its sincerity, nor of its power. Kurland has carved out much of her career by finding the places and people she wanted to know; constantly traveling, her photographs of train-hoppers, the American west, and men or young women in the wilderness, are all of spaces and places she might not have belonged to initially, but came to know through a wonder that feels pure.
At Mitchell-Innes & Nash, art-world gypsy-photographer Justine Kurland exhibits pictures of mechanics and garages taken all across this country. None of them are composed in your typical boring art-world format, around one person, usually of one ethnic, racial, sexual, or economic type, or one variety of object — tools, buildings, vehicles, electric chairs.
John Yau and Justine Kurland discuss Kurland's most recent body of work, Sincere Auto Care, and the relationship between photography, poetry and narrative.
Ashton Cooper from Blouin Artinfo asks Justine Kurland about her two current exhibitions at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, her practice and her inspiration.
For more than a decade, Justine Kurland has taken photographs during annual cross-country journeys from New York to the Pacific Northwest that reveal the double-edged nature of the American dream. A lifelong nomad (she grew up traveling to Renaissance festivals, where her mother sold hand-sewn clothes), her tools are her 4×5 camera and her van, which allow her to dwell, briefly, in the worlds of the marginal figures she photographs. First, there were the girls she cast as runaways, forging into forests and swimming holes. Later came images of commune members in wilderness idylls and panoramas of westbound freighters and the hobos who ride them.
Justine Kurland poignantly discusses her memories of her father, both the artist and the man.
THIS LONG CENTURY is an ever-evolving collection of personal insights from artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians and cultural icons the world over. Bringing together such intimate work as sketchbooks, personal memorabilia, annotated typescripts, short essays, home movies and near impossible to find archival work, THIS LONG CENTURY serves as a direct line to the contributers themselves.
The celebration of motherhood hasn't been a favored subject for artists since Impressionism and the early-twentieth century movements on which its influence is immediately discernable.
It's difficult when you have a kid," the photographer Justine Kurland said. "If they're in a good mood, you can get work done. But if they're in a bad mood, you're at their mercy." Ms. Kurland is known for photographing people in American wilderness landscapes, but the scene this day was the rent-stabilized apartment she shares with Casper, her 2-year-old son, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
In new works at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in Chelsea, naked mothers and children roam along blustery coasts and through forests, imbuing the rough settings with an idyllic grace. "Having a baby has thrown me back to something knowable only to women, a certain immediacy and connectedness to this little being and by extension to many other beings," Kurland explains.
In her show "Songs of Experience," Justine Kurland offered a world of enchantment--outside the bounds of time and convention. The setting was a forest, pictured in dramatic large-scale Cibachrome prints, her first landscapes without people.