Justine Kurland was born in Warsaw, New York. She earned her B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts
in 1996. She went on to Yale University
and graduated with an M.F.A. in 1998.
Kurland first gained public notice with her work in the group show Another Girl, Another Planet
(1999), at New York's Van Doren Waxter gallery. The show included her large c-print staged tableau pictures of neo-romantic landscapes inhabited by young adolescent girls, half-sprites, half juvenile delinquents. This was her first exhibition of a photographic interest that lasted from 1997, when she began taking pictures of her mentor Laurie Simmons's babysitter and her friends, to 2002. Altogether, Kurland published 69 pictures of girls in a series called Girl Pictures
. The staged photos take place in urban and wilderness settings, with girls depicted as though to imply they are runaways, hopeful and independent.
As landscapes, she chose the "secret places"
of late childhood; wasteland on the edges of suburbia, "owned"
only by a feral nature and unsupervised children. Her book Spirit West
(2000) featured similar work on a more ambitious scale. In early 2001 Kurland spent several months in New Zealand, where she created similar work with schoolgirls there.
In her show Community, Skyblue
(2002), Kurland turned to document the utopian communes of Virginia and California, highlighting the unworldly aspirations of the communards by having them appear naked in her pictures and showing them as only distant figures in their landscape. In 2003 she had European solo shows Golden Dawn
(London) and Welcome Home
(Vienna), based around these series of commune images.
(2004) turns to men. She shows visionaries trekking naked into the wilderness, where they undergo spiritual experiences. In her 2004 show Songs of Experience
, she explored medieval and Biblical imagery. In 2005 she had a solo show in Japan. After having a son, Kurland began to photograph pregnant women and new mothers (Mama Baby
, 2004-2007). Her son's interest in trains would lead her to photograph hobos and trains from 2007 to 2011 (This Train Is Bound for Glory
); as he grew up, she became interested in American masculinity, and created photographs of cars and mechanics (Sincere Auto Care
Kurland's work appears on the cover and liner notes of French electronic/shoegaze group M83
's 2004 album Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, as well as the covers of the EP releases for the album.
In an article in ArtForum (April 2000) she talked of her inspirations: "I'm always thinking about painting: nineteenth-century English picturesque landscapes and the utopian ideal, genre paintings, and also Julia Margaret Cameron's photographs. I started going to museums at an early age, but my imagery is equally influenced by illustrations from the fairy tales I read as a child."
Selections from her work Highway Kind
were published in the book The Open Road: Photography & the American Road Trip
by David Campany