Although Groover began her career life as a painter, she gradually moved on to photography and followed in the footsteps of her mentor and those she admired most, such as Giorgio Morandi, Fra Angelico, and Cezanne and many other masters of the art scene, in the 14th and 15th centuries. Her major contributions centered on bringing a sense of Renaissance stateliness to contemporary photography. Groover shot her first photographs in 1978. Although she studied painting, she made her greatest contribution to the field of photography (Boulouch 34). Her unique paintings elevated her as the first photographers to be featured in modern-day magazines such as Artforum that elevated her standing as an international photographer. Her photographs revealed a secret to objects that blended so well with correspondence and harmony, bringing out the best of her artwork.
Born and raised in Plainfield in 1943, Groover’s turning point with professional photography came when she met her husband cum a painter Bruce Boice (Grant 397). She worked as a high school teacher in Plainfield after her graduation from Pratt Institute. Later, after sponsorship to study at Ohio State University, she embarked on her paintings that propelled her to the pinnacle of art, later focusing on still-life photography. Upon winning a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Groover purchased a large format camera that took her photography to a new level focusing more on still life. She later purchased a bigger camera and focused much of her attention on landscapes, surroundings, graveyards, and churches. She went further to explore photography in space and illusion (Grant 397). When she passed on in 2012, she was described to have brought a new feeling of Renaissance stateliness to the field of photography. She contributed to the current professionalism in photography as the previously neglected field of still objects came back to life. Many look up to her work and several of her photos still dominate art exhibitions in the U.S. and France.
Groover’s special place lies somewhere in her sense of space. She rebelled against the camera’s automatic, orderly understanding of space (Squires 38). She used the ways her camera moved backward and forward and tilted in all wrong directions to skew the perspective of a still-life image and throw unforeseen parts of it out of focus. For example, Fig. 1 gives a magical touch and leaves nothing to chance when it shows the arms of two children hanging with a woman’s legs. The lower torso of a boy and another of a man pose close to one another. This photograph is ambiguous with the arrangements giving a geometric posture of constructivist accuracy. The gestures appear real, true to the colors and background settings, unforced, and blending well to the geometric balance. Despite her photographs showing still images, there exists an artwork of life behind the gestures, an element of communication that leaves nothing to chance other than still life (Squires 38). Groover’s unique painterly eye, left nothing to chance, as her photographs featured not images, but still life, of secret lives emanating from still objects. This unique feature described her works.
Fig. 1: Untitled. Source: https://artblart.com/tag/jan-groover/
Groover’s artwork drew inspiration from connecting elements of a picture together to give the meaning (Lauer and Pentak 38). For example, in Fig. 2, Groover employs a subtle continuation form that resulted in a fluid eye movement all around the image. The alignments of these shapes make this flow more consistent (Lauer and Pentak 39). According to her perception of photography, she admitted that she made up life out of the pictures by focusing on the minor details of the images, capturing the magical elements making up its texture, feel, and elements. According to Groover, photographs have in them a life, a way of communication that transcends ordinary communication. It is a way of communication that combines elements of art, design, color, originality, and creativity. She took it upon herself to learn from the works of Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Walker Evans, pioneers in the field of art (Thompson 168). This has motivated her to fulfill her lifelong dream of photography.
Fig. 2. Untitled (Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/3f/d6/e4/3fd6e4dcb062e3b6dcd3706edb955052.jpg)
In a series of still-life photographs, Groover focused more on kitchenware, the butter-knife, spatulas, forks in a unique way (Barrett 19). Her photographs transformed the objects in a unique and reflective way never seen before. The pictures resonated with some sense of feminism, a beauty that seems fictions, inseparable from its object (Seymour). Instead of objects identified with the rich, she focused more on ordinary kitchen implements.
Fig. 3: Untitled (Source: https://www.pinterest.com/studio112/portfolio/)
Groover acknowledged that her photography resonated around formalism, as it formed the core concept of her documentary. To her, “formalism is everything” (Sbolis 312). The carefully orchestrated photograph above (Fig. 3) showed one of her best photos, showcasing her expertise in transforming kitchenware into pieces of art in the form of a photograph. The sharp edges clearly showed the precision of the artillery, with descent and sharp points only identified with cutting and eateries. Her contribution put photography on the world stage. When one of her kitchen photographs was published in the New York Times, it uplifted the once looked down upon profession into a complete piece of art ready for a waiting market (Kennedy). With her enlarged large layout camera, Groover moved to capture and showcase her love for still life. Her kitchenware photographs present a surrealist opportunity meeting on a neutral ground, showing no signs or intent of a dead image. It portrayed a ready half hidden object depicting full intent of the artwork. From the texture, the simple shapes produced by a powerful camera.
The photographs not only showed a way in which Groover combined the ideology of feminism but her motto of combining postmodern art with photography (Kennedy). She excluded a combined set of confidence and exuberance to pieces of objects that is common to many, such as the kitchenware. Her postmodern concept of art was depicted in the narratives that went along with Pierre Schaeffer’s perception of music concrete in which sounds were used from a neutral environment by stripping them of their natural power with the aim of producing abstract powerful music (Barry). She also acknowledged that much of her work resembles art from the likes of Giorgio Morandi and Fra Angelico.
She not only focused on the object itself, she paid close attention to the natural color, texture, and outlook of an object before capturing it (Barrett 19). Initially, while using still cameras, she had difficulty in capturing a real still-life object such as moving cars but relied on the concept of random motion for good shots in order to produce the best of the photographs. For example, she would pay close attention to vehicles, sharp edges, color, the speed of motion, aspects that would help her get real still-life photographs and would help bring out the best in her objects (Barrett 21). Through her photos, she transferred the life of an object to the reality of a paper image, an aspect that gave her photographs a unique feel and outlook. She played around with space and positioning to bring out the best in a still object. For example, she acknowledged that while using the bigger and better camera, she saw and had new dimensions of kitchen objects that enabled her to expand the image of an object from a distance. It was like what Nancy Stuart (59) said a pop art moving on in making the objects bigger, more pronounced and lively.
Fig. 4: Untitled (Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/383509724491619076/)
The photograph above (Fig. 4) shows some aspects of how Groover mixed light technology and focus on bringing out the best in a still image. From the outlook, it is apparent that the items have a link or touch that gives them some meaning. As they are captured side by side, it is no doubt that Groover was focused on the aspect of bringing out the still life in the objects while keeping the objects originality. These kitchenware objects depicted a sense of warmth and congruence in them. It is no doubt, therefore, that Groover put more emphasis on object position, a source of light, background texture, and total ambivalence that would bring out the overall beauty of the photograph.
Fig. 5: Untitled (Source: http://crackpotidea.blogspot.co.ke/2012/10/jan-groover.html)
From the full image of the object (Fig. 5), Groover’s full attention to precision showed that she focused more on line and painstaking attention to the object presented. The picture is good to look at and it gives the full indication of an object taken with the exact keenness to bring out the best.
She photographs only those objects that, according to her, possess animate powers. She claims, “Objects have attitudes. Apples sit around and do not do much, but bottles become little character” (Squires 38). This way Groover arrests attention and extracts a still-life piece out of something larger; it transmutes ideas and lives into objects. Her cutlery photos (Fig. 6 and 7) had a distinctive resemblance to her other works with great emphasis on creating shadows, reflections, and sharp edges. She put most of her photographs in a mysterious effect to emphasize on the shadows and lines at the edges. The effect was a resounding prominent at the right angles. She edited some to achieve the net effect of a burst of pronounced color, creating an in-depth contrast. The photos below are some of her best photos.
Fig. 6: Untitled (Source: http://ediesphotography.weebly.com/unit-2.html)
Fig. 7: Untitled (Source: http://ediesphotography.weebly.com/unit-2.html)
The main theme of the above photo (Fig. 7) is the reflection in the mirror, just what is at the back of the camera. The general tone of the photo is calm, cool, and welcoming. The same applies with the peaceful surroundings of the entire image. Groover’s creativity and beauty in using stainless steel to produce a pattern are fun and beautiful. Was it a different object altogether, it could not have achieved the beautiful image produced (Main 35). In the blurry background, the entire foreground is sharp and focused, crystal clear, with sharp edges giving the entire photo a crispy feeling of beauty. Groover’s photos all have one thing in common, they have a plain background, serving the purpose of producing a prominent edge of the objects. In the plain background, many objects of different shapes including smooth, spiky, jagged, and round edges all in one. Adding a different object may bring in a different effect altogether (La Grange 56). She edited some of the photos to give them a crystal clear appearance and sharp images, a feature that brought out the beautiful still-life feeling associated with most of her photos. For example, the two images below (Fig. 8 and 9) show the difference in using similar objects in one photo and using different objects in one photo.
Fig. 8: Untitled (Source: https://www.pinterest.com/ejsinspire/close-up/)
Fig. 9: Untitled (Source: http://mikayla-brown.tumblr.com/post/86717005056/a-jan-groover-recreation)
Groover’s focus on everyday objects gave her photographs more attention than any photographer of the time. Her focus on objects such as cutlery gave her works prominence within the art field and beyond. She paid close attention to some objects and images that many take for granted and gave them a still life never imagined before (Bergstein 78). She acknowledged the unique aspect of her works as she went further to incorporate other common scenarios into her photography. Her photos were not only informative but beautiful and full of life. It is no doubt that she took her time and passion for bringing out the best in still images. She pushed through her own style and concern. They not only provoked thought but also invoked the beautiful aspect of appreciation of art.
One aspect unique with Groover’s photos is the difference brought forth by the shadows, plain background, and sharp contrast achieved by the three combinations. Not only does this difference inspire the images, but it also highlights the still life brought forth. Despite the poor balance in the images all over the background, Groover maintained a level and balanced angle of taking the photos, achieving a uniform balance throughout all the objects in the photo, thus achieving a unique symmetrical balance between the images, background, and foreground. Additionally, most of her objects in a single photo were close to one another, making the shadows conspicuous and sharp (Main 57). Colored photos brought forth sharp and clear reflections making the edges more pronounced further exposing the beauty behind stainless steel. Groovers’ many objects took different perspectives as they focused more on working with genuine objects, thus transforming the aspect of pictorial representation in the photography field. Simple tools and cutlery as fork, spoon, the human body, and bottle stood tall in her photos different from the normal state in everyday life. It is as if Groover gave still objects a new life through and by her photography.
Groover’s contributions have celebrated for the special ways in which she took inspiration from Renaissance artists like Giorgio Morandi, Fra Angelico, and Cezanne. Groover’s concern with still-life objects led her to create a series of photographs in which she contrasted manufactured goods with natural objects. As discussed in this paper, she presented still-life compositions of kitchen objects to reveal their forms and structures by the play of ambient color reflected from their surfaces. These images focused on the grace of the objects, abstracting their practical quality and highlighting the relationship of shapes and lights. Groover’s work is continuously evolving and today her work stands among the outstanding artists of color photography.
Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Barry, Robert. Jan Groover. Frieze.com Review, May 18, 2013. https://frieze.com/article/jan-groover. Accessed April 04, 2017.
Bergstein, Mary. Mirrors of Memory: Freud, Photography, and the History of Art. Cornell