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A life less ordinary

Photographer Jason Fulford's aesthetic is one of chance and serendipity

Some photographers are on an obsessive quest. William Christenberry with his Alabama barbecue restaurants and juke joints, O. Winston Link with his trains, and Jock Sturges with his naked adolescent girls.

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And some artists are more visually promiscuous.

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Jason Fulford is one of the latter artists, on the prowl and eyes wide open as he gallivants through lands as diverse as South Dakota, Marietta, China, Calcutta, Budapest and Amsterdam looking for poetic juxtapositions and oddball moments. Typically Fulfordian is an image from 1999, simply titled "Budapest." It's a photograph of four working men on a busy street looking down a hole in the sidewalk, as if one has discovered the hallway to China and called the others around for a gander.

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Fulford, 33, is clean-cut in appearance, but in sensibility he is kooky, inventive, peripatetic and relentlessly engaged. He is as excited talking about polyphonic Bach fugues as he is about his public art project and book Paper Placemats, in which a collection of artist- and writer-embellished place mats could be ripped out and used at various restaurants across the country.

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Call it tableware by the people, for the people.

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Fulford's free-range fascination is the charming oddity of ordinary life and people. It is an aesthetic of chance and serendipity and a visually democratic economy in which street signs and highways and scaffolding and boulders all merit equal importance. Like the observational, slacker cinema of Richard Linklater or the trenchant, poignant photography of William Eggleston, Fulford's haunt is an ordinary life made less ordinary via the camera's attention.

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In Fulford's current body of work on view at Marcia Wood Gallery, there are photographs of a gang of ants feasting on a tortilla chip, a framed photograph of an über-normal redheaded kid placed on a table and stacks of utilitarian office chairs.

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Such photographic koans are the fascination of this New York City- and Scranton, Pa.-based photographer and gadabout whose photographs have also accompanied articles in Martha Stewart Living and the New York Times Magazine. Fulford's photographs can also be seen on a variety of book covers by authors from Don DeLillo to Chuck Klosterman on the menswear designer Jack Spade's sock labels, promoting the Chinese goth band Quaisimodo, and on Volvo print ads.

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Fulford's work is quirky enough to appeal to his commercial clients looking to stand out from the pack but poetic enough to hold up under scrutiny as more than a one-note joke. He's interested in life in context, in how an image of a despairingly banal motel room or an under-construction mansion with a backyard view of two spewing nuclear reactors can highlight something about the nature of the world we live in; the poignancy of bad design, the wishful thinking and utter folly that defines human nature, and the various surreal blockages to our progress through life.

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Pop culture has given us the kitten clinging to a branch: "Hang In There, It's Almost Friday." Fulford gives us his own spin on painful whimsy in an image of three doors and knobs stacked up in a row also suggesting the Herculean ordeals life can often throw at you on a daily basis. There is a sense of amused fatalism to his work expressed in the quote that opens Fulford's book of photographs, Crushed. It's from Don DeLillo's fictional football coach in End Zone, who says "It's only a game, but it's the only game."

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For Fulford it is "the simultaneous feeling of sad and funny" that defines his work. He says that his influences are "hardly ever photographic," and tend to draw inspiration more from writers such as Danish philosopher Kierkegaard and French novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet.

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In addition to his many hats, Fulford also wears the hat of book publisher. Along with partner Leanne Shapton, Fulford operates nonprofit publishing house J&L Books, which has published a variety of works from visual artists, writers and illustrators.

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Fulford's exhibition at Marcia Wood Gallery is a typically off-kilter hybrid of Fulford's most recent photographs and the tangential interests of this far-ranging artist/graphic designer/publisher.

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Also featured in the show is a kind of reading room in the back gallery featuring the J&L titles, which although thematically diverse, all help flesh out the peculiar Fulfordian sensibility.

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Polymorphous curiosity and bizarre humor provide the leitmotif of both Fulford's work and the work of his team of artists. As an expression of that curiosity, a library-style trolley in a corner of the gallery features a grouping of wooden "books" that have been selected by the artists in his group show as favorites.

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The vibe is, "Sit down, stay awhile." Leaf through the real books and laugh at the wooden ones, look at the art by J&L artists such as Harrell Fletcher, Mike Slack and Gus Powell. And when you leave the gallery, on your drive through Castleberry Hill observe the homeless man with the white handlebar mustache and cowboy hat seated outside a pawnshop and be amused and heartbroken by the world all over again.



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