Julie Puma had a month to put together her new show, Let's Get it Straight, and she diverted from painting, her usual medium, into snapshot aesthetic photography. The biggest challenge for Puma wasn't the medium, however. Rather, it was spotlighting her own personal life.
Let's Get it Straight" offers a look into the ordinary lives of people in three unorthodox relationships -- two homosexual partners, one transgender woman's marriage and Puma's own polyamorous relationship. She acknowledges the difficultly of mixing voyeuristic photography with personal photography in her show, and notes that she struggled with the idea that her relationship would be on display.
"I used to be really scared about people finding out about my relationship," she says. "But, if we're going to take a stand about marriage, then it's about the right for everyone to have a family the way they want to have a family. I went back and forth on whether to call the piece about me "Julie, Charlie, and John," or "Untitled." I chickened out at the last minute. That was kind of wussy."
She may have shied away from putting herself in the title of her piece, but Puma does not shy away from talking about the reason she thinks different types of relationship deserve the consideration she's trying to emphasize in her show.
"I think we need to redefine what it means to be married," she says. "I see more and more couples, or families, who either split-up or cheat and lie. But for some reason, when people are honest about their relationships and still have wonderful family values, all the things Americans want out of a family, the general public has a hard time moving away from how we originally define marriage."
Puma says she wants to focus on the "banal" part of each family's life in her images and move away from the objectification of the sexuality usually associated with alternative relationships. One series depicts a day painting the house, another at dinner and her own portrait series illustrates an everyday morning.
"I didn't want to be overt," she explains. "I really wanted to normalize it and I wanted to show families doing everyday kinds of things."
With the exception of the two photographs of a marriage, the rest of Puma's pieces present a multi-shot strip of four or five photos. The technique, called "snapshot aesthetic," is something Puma's been working on since her graduate program, when she was influenced by artist Nan Goldin. The snapshot aesthetic, says Puma, is meant to capture the private moments of life.
"There's always that pressure, if you do photography, that you should do video," says Puma. "But I love still photography, because you capture that little moment and then it's gone. And that allows you to think about the expansiveness of that moment, where film gives, or hands you that expansiveness."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
In the future, Puma plans to keep working on snapshot aesthetic photography, and expand her concept for this show.
"I've gotten a lot of feedback that I should focus on one area," she says. "I'm a voyeur here, but its personal here, and I agree. So I think I will spend the year and flush out, probably the polyamory perspective, because I seem to do better work when it's personal."