Jean-Luc Mylayne Spine

Jean-Luc Mylayne (French, born 1946), No. 300, March April 2005, 2005, C-print, 48 x 48 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, N.Y., purchased with funds contributed by the Board of Trustees, 2009.9.
Jean-Luc Mylayne
Permanent Collection Installation
November 1, 2015 to October 30, 2016

For more than thirty years, the French photographer Jean-Luc Mylayne has practiced an unusual form of plein air creativity—working outside, on-site with a large format camera to capture birds in their habitats, exploring how humans and technology have changed the natural world. The subjects of Mylayne’s photographs are birds, but the object of the work is a deeper philosophical investigation of the core of nature and perception. He has developed a vision that puts forward an entirely new approach to naturalism.  

Throughout his career, Mylayne has explored the intimate bond between subject and photographer through a non-traditional combination of visionary inventiveness and infinite patience. His photographic subjects—ordinary birds such as sparrows, starlings, and bluebirds—contradict the uncommon experience depicted in his photographs. These are not images quickly captured “on the fly” or from a distance with a telephoto lens. Rather, they are the result of days, weeks, sometimes months or years of waiting for the perfect alignment of light, subject, and lenses before capturing his target.

Of all the species of birds that have captivated Mylayne’s attention, bluebirds have special meaning: for the artist, their color symbolizes nature. His quest to record these birds has led the artist on an international pilgrimage. In the summer of 1999, Jean-Luc and his wife and collaborator Mylène made their first visit to the United States, stopping for extended stays in New Mexico and ultimately Texas in his worldwide project about the color blue, “the blue of the birds,” he says “and the sky.”

These five pictures, captured in Bernal, New Mexico, in 2004 and Fort Davis, Texas, in 2005, illuminate the artist’s understanding of and appreciation for birds in their natural surroundings. Through a keen attention to detail and an inventive array of overlapping lenses he uses to manipulate the depth of field and focal point of each composition, Mylayne creates an almost cinematic narrative. With the patience and precision of a film director, he exactly composes each work, deliberately pinpointing a location, the ideal subject, and the appropriate scale. As a result, viewers enter environments that seem familiar yet are outside the traditional nature of photography.

Each of the photographs on view here has an accent of the color red, from a stop sign, a sliver of a car, or the bright cowboy boots, that draws the eye into the image. For Mylayne, this compositional effect is a deliberate contrast to the blue of the sky, intended, as he notes “to bring our eyes to an abrupt stop, to call attention to the fact that the natural world has been, and continues to be, interrupted, for good or ill, by human intervention.” The nineteenth-century American artist William Merritt Chase used a similar device in The Big Bayberry Bush, ca. 1895, trimming the figure of his daughter Dorothy, whom he fondly called his “little red note,” with a red bonnet ribbon and sash tie. Though different in fact, the intent of this compositional invention on the part of both artists is similar: to engage the viewer’s attention through an intricate pictorial balance that pulls us into the artist’s world.

The Permanent Collection: Connections and Context is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Maren Otto, the Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Foundation, and the Estate of Robert T. Olson. The Museum’s programs are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and by the property taxpayers from the Southampton School District and the Tuckahoe Common School District.