It's a frame-up 

Photographer Jackson Goodell plays with cinematic mystery

At first glance, Jackson Goodell's photographs seem like the kind found in an envelope marked "confidential" in some John Grisham adaptation. The stark, compelling black-and-white shots, which Goodell showcases in his First Friday Chronicles of Castaways exhibit this week, are taken from afar as if secretly contracted by the FBI. Most of them are clustered in threes, revealing scenes that imply a series of actions, and they're preserved to look like film negatives with thick black frames and technical details such as Kodak TMY 5053 still stenciled into the black. The raw, unfinished look is all part of Goodell's aesthetic, but it's also a way for the photographer to rebel against tools like Photoshop. Six years ago, he started working with photography and for a long time he worked with digital. He finally got sick of the digital world.

"I was so fed up with film—that it was so hard to tell anymore whether something was printed in the darkroom, or if it was printed on a computer and whether it was manipulated by Photoshop or not," says Goodell, a BFA student at the University of Montana. "I started making them in the darkroom with the film strips and everything in the frame so that you knew that I had to have taken those in sequential order. It was a way to put pressure on my skills as a photographer."

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Goodell's first attempts at the film series were cliché. He shot images of the Missoula Skate Park and one of himself jumping up in the air on a bridge. The photos felt too obvious to him.

"Everything was posed and more intentional. Here is a skatepark, but everyone already knows what it is and what happens there. The one of me jumping on the bridge, it looks really cool but there's no story to it. The one of the skate park was really cool but there was no story to it. I came to the point where I didn't feel like the viewer even wanted to ask why the person was doing what they were doing. It was just eye candy."

He started adding a dimension of mystery. In one piece called "Continued Search," three photos depict one landscape—a panorama full of rocks and brush. In the first of the photos, a figure stands to the far right of the frame among rocks and weeds. The next photo shows the same person but farther away in a thicket, with back to the camera. The final shot shows the figure to the far left of the frame, mostly obscured by brush.

Another piece, "Fight or Flight," shows a field with a large billboard and two dark figures chasing one another through the fog toward the horizon where you can just barely make out outlines of something—buildings or trees. But the two figures are in separate frames so they could easily be the same person—one closer to the camera than the other. Goodell says he likes to keep those questions open to interpretation but, in the end, unsolvable.

"These reference cinematography in that I'm trying to provide a sense of time," he says. "I'm trying to tell a story through either multiple characters or time lapse. I wanted there to be a story so the viewer doesn't just go, 'Oh, that person is doing that for this reason,' and there's no question about it."

Goodell's Chronicles of Castaways showcases several of these cinematic mysteries. He says he wanted to create scenes with characters who were not just letting the years pass them by, but who were the protagonists of their lives.

"What I am trying to formulate or capture in these photos is people who are trying to achieve something, or get somewhere," he says. "You don't think of these people sitting on the couch watching TV; they're on some sort of journey."

click to enlarge UM student Jackson Goodell presents Chronicles of Castaways, an exhibit of photographs that look like film negatives. The raw, unfinished look is all part of Goodell’s aesthetic, but it’s also a way of rebelling against tools like Photoshop. “It was a way to put pressure on my skills as a photographer,” he says.
  • UM student Jackson Goodell presents Chronicles of Castaways, an exhibit of photographs that look like film negatives. The raw, unfinished look is all part of Goodell’s aesthetic, but it’s also a way of rebelling against tools like Photoshop. “It was a way to put pressure on my skills as a photographer,” he says.

Chronicles of Castaways is a stark, melancholy collection with a hint of menace. Goodell says he's striving to incorporate whimsy into his work—but just enough to keep it from falling into the kind of sap manufactured as art in box stores.

"I like melancholy, but I feel like there's too much melancholy already out there," he says. "I think it's too easy to pull from those emotions. It's a lot more challenging to successfully pull off something whimsical or pleasant and still be in the fine art range."

To answer that challenge, Goodell is currently working on a trio of photos that are spare like the ones in Chronicles of Castaways but add a touch of idealism. Like a comic strip, the shots show a boy dragging trash bags across the frames, to the final frame where he's fashioning a hot air balloon to fly away.

"I'm trying to veer toward that idea," he says. "The direction I'm going isn't all dark."

Jackson Goodell presents an opening reception for Chronicles of Castaways at Computer Central Friday, May 6, from 5:30 PM to 7 PM. Free.

First Friday Finds

The 6th annual On Deck art show and auction at The Brink Gallery features art on skateboards by local and national artists. This year the decks will be on display for two weeks rather than for one night only. People can bid for the colorful pieces online and at the Brink Gallery during the First Friday reception starting at 5 PM.

>Venus Rising: The Art of Femininity celebrates women in the arts, with a show at the Badlander. The eclectic assembly includes DJs, live painters, video artists, and acts from aerialists and fire/water performers (!), starting at 9 PM.

Amber Bushnell's design show Beetle Babes, at Sotto Voce, includes animations, illustrations, and decorated objects featuring beetles. At night, the windows showcase beetles crawling along a handmade environment. The show continues throughout May, but First Friday promises some audience participation, when people can eat and wear beetle objects, from 5 to 8 PM.

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