Rule Breakers: Jason DeMarte

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Blue Mourning

Rule Setter: Jennifer M. Friess, Assistant Curator of Photography, University of Michigan Museum of Art
Rule Breaker: Jason DeMarte

I am wary of flower photography. Too often, a photograph will depend on the natural beauty of flowers to make the image compelling. Understandably, it is difficult to make an inventive contribution to the still life genre, which is centuries-old. Nevertheless, I am drawn to images that remind me of lush seventeenth-century Dutch still life paintings—from which the genre of flower photography stems—that do not simply aim to reproduce what Mother Nature has already perfected, but instead endeavor to cultivate, embellish, and preserve it.

Jason DeMarte’s work is the exception to the rule; his decadent still lifes would make Mother Nature blush. Not unlike his seventeenth-century Dutch image-making counterparts, DeMarte’s photographs are highly constructed tableaux that reference contemporary consumer culture and our insatiable desire to pursue perfection. In other words, his images are vanitas scenes for the twenty-first-century consumer. DeMarte posits: “I am interested in modern understandings of the natural world and how that compares to the way western society approaches its immediate consumer environment.”

DeMarte’s seamless photomontages combine highly detailed images of flowers, birds, and elements of suburban life—photographed in his home garden and the surrounding environs—with carefully staged vignettes of sugary treats photographed within his studio. Ominous gray clouds and a ubiquitous fog provide the backdrop for perky peonies and pokeberries drenched with cornsyrup-dew, while local birds consume high-fructose candies colored in unnatural shades of pink and purple. These humorous, bordering-on-sinister, juxtapositions both delight the viewer while also calling out the artificial nature of our supposedly natural surroundings. The photographer suggests that it is critical to compare “…utopian ways of representing the landscape to the hyper-perfect way products and modern consumer life are represented in media.”

DeMarte’s photographs do not simply rely on nature’s beauty to make the photograph compelling; rather, his visually seductive and conceptually rich works invite viewers to reexamine all images that comes our way, even if they leave a cloyingly sweet aftertaste.
—Jennifer Friess

Candied Cultivation



Pokeberry Persuasion