Julie Renee Jones’ ‘UMBRA’ casts a shadow at Blue House Gallery

By Morgan Laurens

Photo: ‘Chiral’ is one of the more surreal works in Julie Renee Jones’ ‘UMBRA’, running through Feb. 28 at Blue House Gallery

Julie Renee Jones is a bit of a film buff. “Have you seen “Solaris?” she asks, grasping a mug of dark turmeric tea. The Dayton-born photographer is telling me aboutUMBRA,” her latest body of work at Blue House Gallery, but interjects with the question about Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 sci-fi classic. When I shake my head no, she gives me the rundown: in the not-too-distant future, a psychologist, Chris Kelvin, is summoned to a space station orbiting planet Solaris in order to investigate the truth behind the crew’s slipping grasp on reality. When Kelvin awakens after his first night on board, he finds his wife, Khari, in bed with him. The trouble is, Khari committed suicide on Earth a decade earlier. Kelvin soon realizes that Solaris is sentient, able to read his mind and create physical manifestations out of his deepest fears and desires.

“Solaris” is, depending upon whom you ask, a chilling, deliberately paced meditation on love and memory, or an overlong ponderous bore. Its nearest neighbor is Stanley Kubrick’s gateway sci-fi flick “2001: A Space Odyssey”; both films involve a journey into deep space and mind-reading alien intelligence. But where “2001” turns outward, using space as a next-step frontier, “Solaris” looks inward to find the monsters that haunt us.

Jones’ “UMBRA photographs have a similar feel. Though their vivid color is likely the first thing you’ll notice—the too-blue of an unnaturally cloud-free sky or the crimson of a feathery, overgrown bush—her single-person images are resolutely introverted. And like “Solaris,” her work plays with the nature of reality, the frailty of memory, and the mysteries of the human mind.

Finding herself back in Dayton after finishing a master of fine arts degree in Chicago, Jones uses the familiar landscape of her suburban childhood home to conjure half-remembered people and places—though the memories are not always hers.

“The way I remembered [Dayton] and these events that happened to me was misconstrued between my memory and actually arriving back here,” Jones says. “I became more and more interested in this idea of false memory, misremembered events, misremembered people, and this idea that when you leave home, you can never quite return to it in the same capacity.”

Her work is populated with people you know—your kid sister, your half-cousin, your mother. Their faces are obscured with hair or the sun, or their backs are simply turned toward us, evading full recognition. We may think we recognize the drop of their shoulders, the tilt of their head, or the color of their hair from behind, but we can never really know for sure; you can’t walk around a photograph any more than you can walk around a memory.

In “Solaris,” the new version of Khari looks just like the original, right down to the last detail. She even shares some of Khari’s memories, though they are patchy, supplied secondhand from Kelvin. Her being is somewhat limited in that Solaris is only capable of knowing what Kelvin knows about her; entire chunks of her memory are missing because they are based on what Kelvin remembers. She does not, for example, remember committing suicide because Kelvin was not there to experience the event firsthand.

When we remember someone, who are we really remembering? Is it the person we love, or the idea of that person? In “Shimmer,” Jones captures the image of a child in a dim room with her back to us, playing with something that is hidden from view. Whatever the object is, it’s catching the light from an unseen window and refracting it against the wall.

“I had a curator come up to this photo,” Jones recalls, “and she goes, ‘How did you get that picture? That’s my memory. I don’t understand how you did that.’”

“Solaris” suggests that we can never know the people in our relationships—that what we actually know is only the sum of everything we think we know about them. Jones’ photos take things a step further by suggesting that we might not know ourselves any better.

The hazy distance of childhood and the homogeny of suburbia are key in capturing the misremembered aspect of Jones’ work. Her photographs are indebted to ’80s suburban horror films—you can see the subversive streak of the American dream-skewering “Blue Velvet” and even slasher classic “Halloween” in photographs where an overgrown bush creeps out onto the sidewalk or someone’s lawn is just a few days overdue for a trim. The people in the photographs often merge with the overgrowth, suggesting the mythological paganism of a Lars Von Trier film.

UMBRA (a shadow cast by a form of light in space) is titled in homage to “Solaris.” Like planet Solaris, Jones’ photographs create a shadow world, a parallel reality recreated from memory and filled with doppelgangers who aren’t quite the real thing. The trick is, though we know the people are only fakes or replicas of someone we knew long ago, we fall in love with them anyway.

‘UMBRA’ runs through Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Blue House Gallery, 3325 Catalpa Dr. in Dayton. The gallery is open Fridays from 4-6 p.m. Admission is free and open to public. For more information, please visit or

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Reach DCP freelance writer Morgan Laurens at

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