Mastering Color and Light

Jan Groover became a seminal figure in the world of photography when in 1979 Artforum featured one of her photographs on their cover, serving as a critical moment in both her career and the medium’s history. Central to Jan Groover’s work was her ability to masterfully use color and light, which she derived from critical studies in emerging color technologies beginning in the 1970s. Her still lifes transform everyday, utilitarian objects and household items into postmodern masterpieces.

Creating Photographs with a Painter’s Sensibility

Groover’s painterly approach to her photographs enhance the drama within each image; images that are dominated by color and form, shadow, and light. By carefully constructing each photograph and arranging each scene, Jan Groover creates photographs with a painter’s sensibility, having been trained as one in the 1960s. Her pure aesthetic approach to the medium separates her from many of her contemporaries. For Groover, images were not defined by discovery, but by invention. Her images are like language, each object represents a tool or a device that resonates with the viewer, formally and elementally emphasizing the poetic nature of each picture. Her images are seductive, refined, and conceptual, and her ability to employ a wide range of artistic techniques within each photograph made Jan Groover one of the most definitive photographers of her time.

1978 – 1979

In 1978 and 1979, Jan Groover made a series of large color still lifes of kitchen utensils and fruit that influenced her later work. In the late 1980s, her work morphed into less ambiguous landscapes composed of statuesque-like figurines, candlesticks shaped like pillars, jars and vases.

Jan Groover, Untitled, 1990, Chromogenic Color Print

Untitled, 1990

“Untitled, 1990,” like many of the other images in the series, gets its elongated, horizontal format from the use of a banquet camera, which got its name because it was designed to capture everyone in attendance at a “banquet” in the early 20th century. The camera, favored by the likes of Cubist painter Georges Braque and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes before him, is an Edwardian relic that gained popularity again in the 1960s to capture sharp horizon lines. By using this all encompassing camera, Groover was able to capture, with precision, a larger picture plane and composed a still life that was more complex than ever before. The red tones within this image combined with the sensuality of the light and shadow make it one of her most dynamic photographs.

A Legacy

Born in Plainfield, NJ on April 24, 1943, Groover received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1965 from Pratt Institute and later her Master of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1970. Her Kitchen Still Life photographs were first exhibited at Sonnabend Gallery. She received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1979 and  in 1987, had a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, NY, which toured the United States. Other solo shows include exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY.

Immortalized within Contemporary Photography

Groover moved to France in 1991 until her untimely death in 2012. John Szarkowski, the Director of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from 1962 to 1991, also a photographer, curator, historian, and critic who championed the art of photography once stated that, “her pictures were good to think about because they were first good to look at.” Groover’s often surrealistic images represent the artist’s interest in, as she once stated, “the concept that you could change space- which you can” as she carefully constructed and arranged a scene into an almost meditative experience. Groover’s work is immortalized within contemporary photography.


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