As a graduate student in the School of Fine Arts, Matthew Jensen ’08 MFA continued to develop his work as a conceptual landscape artist, combining photography with collecting objects and rigorous exploration. In 2008, he stumbled upon something he thought would be “a great winter project.” He began to take a tour of the United States from his studio chair using Google Street View.
“It was only in a few states then, where you could do this magical thing of dropping a little yellow man to see what the street looks like,” Jensen recalls. “I got lost in these images, strangely romantic despite strange colors and technological origins.”
As he collected images of America’s large and small communities from Google, Jensen began to work with computer software to change the color and contrast on the panoramic photos to create “The 49 States,” which is now part of an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City titled “After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age,” which runs through May 27, 2013.
The Museum purchased “The 49 States” for its permanent collection in 2010 through its Vital Purchase Funds program.
“It’s a visually stunning work that thoughtfully addresses some of the ways in which digital technology is transforming our experience of the world,” says Mia Fineman, the Metropolitan Museum curator who acquired the work. “That Jensen used Photoshop to select, frame, and flatten each of the 49 images culled from Google Street View made the piece a perfect choice for the exhibition.”
Jensen, who continues to create new works as he teaches classes in digital photo imaging at The New School in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, says that having one of his prominent works purchased and exhibited by a major art institution is “exciting.”
“It’s kind of hard to sum it up. I try not to think too much about it,” he says. “It’s the biggest thing, obviously, that’s happened to me. It’s what everybody hopes for – an audience for the work.”
Jensen, a native of Killingly, Conn., has exhibited his work in Connecticut, New Jersey, and in several New York galleries, drawing the kind of critical attention and praise that has led to profiles in The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine. He also has earned a prestigious MacDowell Fellowship and grants from the New York State Senate and the Manhattan Community Arts Fund for his landscape photography.
The artist says he worked at a methodical pace in creating “The 49 States,” going from west coast to east coast. Viewing the images, Jensen says he could seek out different towns within a state by looking at satellite views and following railroad tracks. By studying the light in each photo, he could determine the time of day the image was taken.
“Some states had very little to see, others had more,” he says. “Each picture is a composite of a number of pictures of a single scene. For me it was important that whoever was looking at the series could see the connections to the history of landscape photography, while also experiencing something beautiful and local in each image. That’s kind of the fun part about it; it makes it public. People see the imagery and find familiarity in some of the images, and then they go to find ‘their’ state.”
Jensen has explored various parts of Connecticut and New York City in creating his other landscape works, collecting objects from various locations throughout his travels to develop another work he is calling “Homage to the American Place,” which he describes as “the analog response to ‘The 49 States.’”
He calls “Homage to the American Place” a “participant-based work” that involves more than 1,000 glass shards with the name of a different small town in the United States affixed to the back of each piece. Willing participants will each receive a glass shard in order to travel to the particular town on the glass piece within three years and send proof of their visit to a specified address. Jensen says all of the shards were excavated from sites next to factories in northeast Connecticut that were constructed during the period of the nation’s Industrial Revolution.
“It’s a response to the fact that so much has changed in the way people experience landscape, and nothing much can be done about it,” he says, noting that he hopes to begin putting “Homage to the American Place” into motion sometime this fall.
In addition to creating his artwork and teaching, Jensen has also entered the art world as a curator in a novel way – selecting works by New York City artists to hang in the corridors of a 19-story hotel in Manhattan, The James in SoHo. He was brought into the project by one of the hotel directors, who saw an exhibition of his project, “Nowhere in Manhattan,” photos of New York’s wilderness landscapes.
“All of the artists have their own corridor, and the work was purchased,” Jensen says. “They are young artists and for some of them it was their first work sold. It’s a permanent display of their work. Many of the artists have brought people there [to the hotel] to see their work.”
For more information about Matthew Jensen’s artwork, go to his website, http://jensen-projects.com. To learn more about “After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age,” go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.