Julie Blackmon on her photo ‘Fake Weather’

For Contact Sheet, Document asks a photographer about the unseen story of a frame that defines their work.

Date Taken: 2017

Location: Springfield, Missouri

“The idea [for ‘Fake Weather’] came about when we were only four months out from the election of Trump. It was during a time where everything was about fake news, or fake something or another. I liked that phrasing and I wanted to do something with the word ‘fake.’ At the same time, I was around my nephews and nieces everyday and they were all looking forward to winter and snow days. Usually we’ll have a couple big snows a year in Missouri, but it was a winter where it was unseasonably warm and there was no indication of snow. Even in February things were blooming and green. It was obvious the snow day they all wanted was never going to happen. I was thinking about the darker side of that too which is global warming, but I was trying to take a lighthearted look at it.

I don’t know how it came to mind, but I was on Amazon one day looking up fake snow and the next thing I knew I had 90 gallons of fake snow. I also bought one of those Olan Mill backdrops of a winter scene. I brought the backdrop outside to do a test against the green grass and I liked the fake scene within the reality of what was really all green and quite warm. I asked Zelma and Margot, both my little nieces, if they would help me out and they did. I had other kids assisting me too, they’re the ones throwing the snow from behind the screen. We just kind of experimented.

[My nieces] were really hot that day with those coats on. It was February, but I think it was around 75 degrees. They were like, ‘We’re hot!’ I’m saying, ‘OK, just three more… OK, two more!’ I think at some point they ripped those fur hats off—they were done. I often never have long [to get the shot], especially with little kids. I might have 20 minutes tops before they’re over it. Within those 20 minutes I just try to get as much as I can and then I’ll edit later.

I’ll usually know within a few hours of editing if I got something or not. I think I knew after I shot that day that I got the expressions I wanted from them. From there I knew I could make any number of things happen surrounding them—I think I went back and put the wheelbarrow in.

These are stressful times in our country, there’s a lot of uncertainty. An image like ‘Fake Weather’ allows me to look at the stress, fear, and darkness of where we’re going, but in a light-hearted way. It allows me to bring some humor and wit to the challenging times we find ourselves in.

It’s interesting, back in 2010 I was really trying to look at the stress and chaos of being a parent and sorting that out in my work. Now, as my kids have grown up, I don’t have any kids at home anymore, it’s more of a broader look—it’s not just about parenting. I think ‘Fake Weather,’ thematically, was one of the first [works] to come from this broader approach.”

Julie Blackmon is a contemporary American photographer based in Springfield, Missouri. Her photo ‘Fake Weather’ is part of her exhibition ‘Fever Dreams,’ on view at Fotografiska in New York City through May 3, 2020.