Every picture is supposed to tell a story. But photographers struggle with the fact that an image laden with insight and meaning to them does not necessarily translate to viewers.
In her exhibition of black-and-white photographs, Jennifer Julian seeks to capture people, often friends and family, in gestures and expressions that reveal their inner emotional workings.
Julian's goal is an enormously difficult one. Her small exhibition in a portion of Georgia Perimeter College's library asserts its intentions in its title — Revelations. In the show, Julian clearly hopes her camera will bore a hole into the souls and hearts of the people she photographs. Her subjects certainly strive to give it up for the camera. In one of Julian's signature images, "Brian," a youngish man with wet, dark eyes stares directly into the camera, as if imploring the photographer to see into him.
But more often, Revelations lacks the insight the title promises. Julian has many of her subjects, like "Dameon" gaze directly into the camera, as if that posture will magically give us a connection to his state of mind. Several, like the woman in "What's It All For," help us along, feigning expressions of distress as she is shown, literally, backed into a corner. When the persuasive, actorly abilities of Julian's subjects fail her, she resorts to titles like "Anxiety" to nudge us toward revelation.
But the image that lures you into Revelations is unlike such self-conscious portraits. The photograph is a haunting one, of an elderly woman reclining in a hospital bed wearing a pitiful standard-issue gown. The woman's gaunt face and startled expression register panic while one frail arm pulled in close to her body mimics a gesture of primal, fetal self-protectiveness. It is the trappings of this woman's circumstance — the hospital gown, her age — that give the image its weight rather than some effort by the woman to take conscious part in her own revelation of self.
The photo addresses more than the woman's individual circumstance. It also treats a more universal fear of growing old.
If any of Julian's works come close to capturing her subjects' state of mind, it's this one, which speaks Proustian volumes about vulnerability and isolation. In such fleeting moments, Julian makes her potential as a seer into her subjects' lives clear.
Revelations runs through Dec. 2 at Georgia Perimeter College, Fourth Floor JCLRC Gallery, 555 N. Indian Creek Drive, Clarkston. Mon.-Thurs. 7:45 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri. 7:45 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sun. 1-5 p.m. 404-299-4136. www.jenniferjulian.com.