Uncharted Territory

by Julie L. Sims

My series, Uncharted Territory: Anatomy of a Natural Disaster, is about how our internal landscape is often subject to the same kind of cracks, shifts, and fractures that make up the natural processes of the physical world.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020 mental health issues will be the second leading cause of lost life productivity, with one in four people affected in their lifetime. Society is heading toward a mental health crisis that no one wants to acknowledge, because those who suffer feel responsible for doing so, as though it is a personal failing instead of a medical condition. But are you at fault if the ground falls out from underneath your home? No one can exert force of will over force of nature. When disaster strikes we hang on as best we can, and rebuild when we can stand back up again. Everyone comes together to help those who need it. The parallel drawn by this series highlights my hope for a similar approach to our psychological space.

The idea for this work sprang out of my own struggles with anxiety and depression, and out of seeing so many of my friends have similar struggles. Everyone I have known who has gone through this felt as though they should’ve somehow been able to overcome it on their own, and as though they were somehow weak and defective for not being able to. I wanted to say this to them, and to myself, and to every other person who had experienced these feelings: it’s not your fault. You are not weak or defective, you are experiencing a natural disaster; don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. I also hope it will help those who haven’t personally experienced these illnesses to understand the need for support and compassion when their friends and loved ones suffer.

The scenes are sculptures created in my studio out of wire mesh, plaster, paper, and other elements. I use lighting gels, fog machines, and various kinds of gobos both found and made to alter the light, as well as overhead projectors and printed transparency material to create different effects. I am constantly moving the camera, moving scene elements around in relation to one another, and changing the light. It has been said that photography is the relation between light, the subject, and the camera. I try to keep all three in flux at all times, because that is where the unpredictable magic happens. I perform only minimal digital post-processing on these—there is no Photoshop involved in creating the visual effects. When I first began the series I was shooting on medium format film and doing my own printing, but my darkroom access has changed since then, and I now shoot digitally and send files out for printing.

I began this series in 2009, and have been working on it off and on ever since. I’ve created three different “landscapes” for it that comprise the images now in the series, and I am in progress with additional scenes and ideas which I plan to add to it. It is my hope to complete work on these this year, and finally call this series complete.

"Divergent Margin, Cingulate Cortex"

Divergent Margin, Cingulate Cortex

"Dendritic Clear-Cut, Limbic Ridge"

Dendritic Clear-Cut, Limbic Ridge

Charred Slopes, Noradrenergic Pass

Charred Slopes, Noradrenergic Pass

Smoldering Basin, Locus Coeruleus

Smoldering Basin, Locus Coeruleus

Eddy Currents, Neurotrophic Plasma

Eddy Currents, Neurotrophic Plasma

Born in Savannah, GA, Julie Sims is an Atlanta-area artist and photographer. She graduated summa cum laude with a BFA in photography from Georgia State University in 2009. Julie’s work has been shown around the southeast, and has appeared in various publications including the SPE’s Due South, and Possible Futures’ Noplaceness: Art in a Post-Urban Landscape. She was recently selected by the New York Times Lens blog to attend the New York Portfolio Review, and is currently a WonderRoot 2013–14 Walthall Fellow. Visit her website to see more of her work. Watch her her work in progress on Tumblr or follow her on Twitter.

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Categories: Art


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  1. Spotlight: Interview with the Atlanta TAR (Therapeutic Artist Residency) participants | Creative Thresholds - July 27, 2017

    […] few months ago, Atlanta artist and former Creative Thresholds contributor Julie L. Sims contacted me about an exhibition associated with a residency she’d done the year before in […]


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