by Marianna Levine
The large-scale prints of Jean Luc Mylayne featuring the landscape and avian inhabitants of Fort Davis, Texas, now on view at Parrish Art Museum, are part of the French photographer’s long-term project to capture or illustrate different notions of time.
Time is quite an abstract and transient notion to display in a still photograph, but Parrish Art Museum’s director and the show’s curator, Terrie Sultan explains, “The over-arching idea of everything in his work is the Greek notion of time. In Greek there are three words for time and they represent immediacy, duration, and chronology. He tries to manifest this in an image. In fact his process of taking the picture represents all aspects.”
Sultan explains that Mylayne isn’t a documentary nature photographer taking pictures with a telephoto lens. Instead he spent over four years taking photos of blue hued birds with an 8” x 10” large format camera against Texas’ enormous azure sky. The process meant it took a very long time for Mylayne to capture an image of an instant that will hopefully endure as an archival print for yet another long period of time.
Part of Mylayne’s philosophy is to create only one print of each image.
“To him each photograph is like a painting. The image is not cropped and not digitally manipulated in anyway,” say Sultan. “He sits and waits for the image out in nature.”
Sultan became familiar with Mylayne’s work when she was director of the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston. A colleague told her about Mylayne’s work in Fort Davis near Marfa, Texas a town associated with art and artists in the area — although Mylayne himself isn’t a part of the arty crowd there. He is fully focused on his work and philosophy, and tends to keep himself out of that particular world.
Instead, he specifically chose Fort Davis because it was the migratory crossing point of the eastern, western, and mountain blue bird. However he also discovered it was the most common historical route for human migration in the area as well. The area was a crossing point for Native Americans, early explorers, Mexicans, and colonial settlers.
Sultan, who feels it is her job to discover artists that the general public might not yet be aware of, became interested in his philosophical perspective not only on time but also on the color blue.
“He has a long standing personal project to capture various blues especially the blue of the sky and birds. It’s a global project and his life’s work,” she explains.
Sultan relates that Mylayne wanted to capture the changing color of the sky partially as a reaction to an illustration of how environmental pollution impacts our natural surroundings.
Sultan brought the exhibit, Mylayne’s first American solo show, to the Parrish because she thought his process clearly resembled Eastern Long Island’s long standing En Plein Air tradition of sitting in nature to capture an image. The process is one of building a relationship to surroundings not just creating a representation of them.
Mylayne has wrapped up the Fort Davis portion of his project and is now exploring the possibility of photographing blue birds and sky in the Philippines or Papua,s New Guinea, but, Sultan explains, both locations are quite challenging so he is just in the process of working out how to actually make it happen. In the meantime, approximately 23 of Jean Luc Mylayne’s large photographic prints will hang at the Parrish Art Museum from June 28 through September 20. A preview of the exhibit takes place at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 followed by a public talk and illustrated lecture by Terrie Sultan and a Q&A with Mylayne. A reception will follow at 7 p.m. Admission is $7 (free for members). The Parrish Art Museum is located at 25 Job’s Lane, Southampton. Call 283-2118 for more details.
Above: Jean Luc Mylayne. “No. 186, January February 2004″ 48.5 in. x 60.25 in.