In The Pleasure Gardens, the London-based photographer Sarah Jones offers up a visual feast. Her images of horses, flowers, and formal garden features, taken with a large-format view camera, convey the viewer into a psychologically charged realm, where her subjects are suspended against ink-black grounds. This exhibition of 16 images moved fluidly from black-and-white to color prints and engaged with various subject matter without disturbing the visual coherency and an otherworldly air. Even Jones’s smaller still lifes of jewel-hued glass collectibles, or the image Crystal (Quartz) (III), 2018, seem just outside the world of tangible things.
Isolated in indeterminate spaces, groomed horses, thorny clusters of pink rose bushes, a classically shaped fountain whose water droplets appear like frozen crystals, and a cascading manmade waterfall all accrue an uneasy gravitas against a black void. Together, Jones’s images construct a dialogue between permanence and transience, artifice and reality. For example, the static materiality of Crystal (Quartz) (III) contrasts with Cascade (I), 2017, a waterfall whose ephemeral current becomes mist in the wind. Her images also illuminate the artifice of her environments, as in the rose bushes, which she has photographed using the cinematic lighting technique called “day for night” to simulate a night scene.
Jones’s interest in still life and portraiture traditions and the history of photography and its contemporary application is evident. She references other photographers in works such as Cabinet II (After Man Ray) (I), 2013: a photograph of a black curio object in the shape of a violin’s f-hole, it makes a nod to the American photographer’s famous 1924 image, Ingre’s Violin. In Horse (After Muybridge) (I), 2010/12, a white horse is tethered in a white stall, one of two images – Horse (Dapple Grey) (I), 2017, is the other – not printed on a black ground.
A Victorian sensibility of restraint permeates the work. Situated as if in hermetically sealed spaces, the horses and objects, for example, evoke notions of wealth and privilege, while The Rose Gardens (Display) (VI), 2014, reveals the cycle of life – bud, full bloom, decay, and death.