Nestled in a quiet street in Shanghai, Alter Gallery hosts an eclectic and focused selection of young photographic artists from New York, Milan and Shanghai. 2019 saw the gallery exhibit the work of Jeanette May at PHOTOFAIRS, a visual artist whose most recent project ‘Tech Vanitas’ responds to our overindulgence of modern day technology. Following a 17th century vanitas fashion, May carefully stacks thematic objects horizontally or vertically, often in an uncomfortably-high arrangement aimed to trigger feelings of anxiety; similar to the impact of modern day mass consumption and technology use.
As a teacher at the International Center of Photography (New York), May enlightens her students with knowledge from her impressive photography career, having exhibited internationally in solo and group exhibitions. This week she joins us as part of our 2020 #ArtistTakeover series, informing our audiences of her latest series and experience exhibiting at the Fair.
Jeanette May: I am a visual artist living in Brooklyn, NY, and creating photographic artworks. My recent still life photographs reference 17th Century Dutch Vanitas paintings. In these “Tech Vanitas” photos, I embrace the conflicting desires to acquire new technology and preserve beautifully designed, obsolete machines. I was very excited to have my photographs on view at PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai 2019 in the Alter Gallery booth. When I arrived at the fair, I saw my “Tech Vanitas: Fiber Optics” photo enlarged on the wall behind the fair’s Information Desk! Amazing!
“While constructing each still life, I quickly assess the colors represented in the technology and determine what colors could enhance the image through tablecloths and backdrops.”
“Blue Typewriter” is one of the first photographs I created in my “Tech Vanitas” still life series. I started with vintage technology I already owned and then I started borrowing items from friends, like this charming electric typewriter. I also rent props from an electronics recycling center in Brooklyn, NY. Cameras and phones become obsolete so fast now, but my grandmother’s art deco toaster functioned for 70 years! My still lifes are a precarious arrangement of both old and new technology.
One of my goals is to create beautiful, colorful images. Unfortunately, technology often lacks color. I chose this electric hot pot for “Dot Matrix” because of the rich red color. I filled it with the obsolete cell phones a friend found in her attic! While constructing each still life, I quickly assess the colors represented in the technology and determine what colors could enhance the image through tablecloths and backdrops. I am fortunate to have a studio space at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, which is located in the Garment District of New York City. I am surrounded by fabric stores.
Each of my “Tech Vanitas” still lifes includes five tech categories: time, light, optics, audio, and communication. The passing of time was often represented in 17th Century Dutch still lifes with an hourglass or skull. Optics, audio, communication, and light are evolving aspects of recent technology. I also include household technology such as the rice cooker in “Green Instamatic.” I love the green color and the old, fabric-covered electrical cord. Power sources are a significant aspect of contemporary technology. In my most recent still lifes, I include cords and batteries and reveal the inner workings of the technological items.