Jenny Okuns pictures play with pre-existing form
By Katy Harris
Jenny Okuns architectural pictures are expressionistic renditions, interpreting and reinventing structure as much through omission as they do through the more traditional photographic manipulation of light and form. Referencing and sometimes paying tribute to Cubist painter, Georges Braques or existentialist composer, Philip Glass, they challenge linear dimensionality, the trademark of architectural photography.
But then Okun has more than a photographers background. Its her film-makers spirit and painters eye, developed at Chelsea Art School and The Slade in London, that she draws upon for rich results.
Twenty or so years ago, she was making an experimental short film waves breaking on the beach. Hand-cranking the film forwards and backwards to mimic their movement she accidentally dislodged the film from its sprockets. "I hated the film," she says "but was immediately won over by the superimpositions Id rather haplessly created." She explains with refreshing openness.
Picking up a hand-me-down, large format Hasselblad equipped with wide angle and telephoto lenses, she embarked on a series of photographic landscape studies, accomplishing the same superimposed images inside the camera. But she quickly found the landscapes too tame and predictable, and switched to her current subject: mainly contemporary buildings with plenty of unusual straight lines and edges, pre-requisites for her complex abstract montages.
Her portfolio of 30" x 40" Iris prints include such significant architectural structures as Richard Rogers Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London: Frank Gehrys Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain: Richard Meiers Getty Museum here in Los Angeles; the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas; and recent buildings and palaces in Italy. Her work has been exhibited all over the world in such prestigious venues as the Victorian and Albert Museum in London, Claudia Carrs Gallery in New York, and the Craig Krull Gallery in Los Angeles. Shes currently preparing a catalogue for a solo show at Spaziotempo in Florence, Italy.
Although the abstract results of Okuns work are emotive and experiential, theres little thats unconscious or haphazard about the process. The beginning is often methodical and labored. "I look for buildings that I can glorify, ones with which I can celebrate the invigorating effect of space and good design. I particularly like the designs of Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, Antoinne Predock, Ricardo Legoretta and Richard Rogers.
"Once Ive found a building that I like, I spend a good deal of time walking around the site thinking about the details that interest me. I make a lot of preliminary drawings which determine the shape and order of the photographic images, and how they might mesh together."
The joy and unpredictable creativity comes after Okun has gathered six exposures on one negative. Then she scans the transparencies into a computer and plays digitally with the color and order. "I never know how the color and order. "I never know how the colors will mix together. Thats the fun part, and the textures are the next surprise."
She makes them into Iris prints, a process originally designed for printers proofing. The water-based inks on beautiful high quality paper produce a watercolor effect which is extremely vibrant. Okuns particularly excited that, as an alternative, she can now print directly from her computer onto paper, which affords her more color control.
Her concept is to toy with the smaller details, offering an impressionistic memory rather than an authentic whole. "When I was commissioned to photograph the gondolas in Venice, I wasnt attempting to romanticize them. I think they are noisy images. They are about the sounds of the boats clanking together."
When she was commissioned by the Getty Center to make an original poster commemorating the opening, Okun spent a year visiting the site and photographing. "The galleries are cocoons from which you emerge into a bleaching white space on top of the world. The experience is tactile and disorienting. Its an extremely complex pattern of exterior spaces. Most people only remember the stone and feeling of vastness." Okuns version portrays a kinetic energy, alternately evoking continuity and flux, with a sense of timeless grace4, through repetition. Emblematic of most of her work, each section incorporates elements of the whole, several moments embraced in one single image.
A well-known LA architect once said to Okun: "The creative process has already occurred. Why are you trying to reinvent it?" What he didnt get was that Okun conjures up the spirit and essence of her subjects, and in so doing, accomplishes some refreshingly unique and plucky fine art. Okun concludes, "As an artist you have to become necessarily impervious"