Jan Groover (b. 1943 )

Jan Groover is well known for her formalist still life photographs of household utensils. Groover was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1943. She attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor of fine arts in painting. Groover taught art in public school before enrolling in a master of fine arts program for art education at Ohio State University. Before she developed an interest in photography, Groover devoted much of her time to painting minimalist abstractions. After completing her masters degree she accepted a teaching position at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. She then started to take up photography instead of painting. Groover stated, “With photography I didn’t have to make things up, everything was already there.”(1)

Groover started creating her first photographs in the late 1970s. These were color diptychs and triptychs depicting vehicles in motion. They were formalist images emphasizing time, distance, speed, and color. When the vehicle was close to the camera the object was blurred and when the vehicle was farther away from the camera the object was sharper. In Groover’s motion studies color played an important role in enhancing the depth of the moving object.(2)

In 1978 Groover turned to her kitchen sink for new ideas. She completely changed the subject matter of her photographs, moving from street scenes out-of-doors to still lifes of household objects. She chose as her subjects familiar, everyday objects she could arrange any way she wanted. She did not have to rely on natural lighting, but was able to illuminate her subjects with artificial lighting. Groover took large color close-ups of objects like stainless-steel utensils, spoons, forks, knives, whisks, spatulas, bowls, glass dishes, red and green peppers, and houseplants. She experimented with combinations of objects until a relationship of shapes, colors, and spaces pleased her. Her pictures were taken with a 4x5 view camera and enlarged as 16x20 inch prints.

Groover’s approach to her still lifes was a formalist approach. “Formalism is everything,” she commented.(3) Groover looked at the objects in her still lifes for their shapes, lines, colors, and textures. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize if the objects are in the foreground, middle ground, or background. According to Groover, the meaning of the objects is of no importance; only the shape, texture, and form that falls into a particular space is important.(4) According to one writer, “Groover makes pictures that are interesting not so much for the things they show us as for how they show us these things.”(5)

(Jaimie Masino)

(1-2) Sullivan Shopmaker, “Foreword,” Jan Groover – Photographs (New York: Neuberger Museum, 1983), p.2.

(3) Sally Eauclaire, The New Color Photography (New York: Abbeville Press, 1981), p. 35.

(4) Constance Sullivan, ed., Pure Invention: The Tabletop Still Life Photographs by Jan Groover (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990), p. 9.

(5) Sullivan, p. 62.

(illustration pending)

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