Thursday, May 29, 2014

In the Abstract Winners: James V. Mignogna

Like many people, Juror’s Choice winner James Mignogna developed a love for photography as a child. First borrowing, and then later “stealing,” one of his father’s cameras. Working long hours, Mignogna’s father spent his weekends photographing with his son. After his mother passed away, photography also became a way to navigate their relationship and the grief they both felt. “The one thing we could always talk about was cameras and photography. It was really the only time I feel like we were connecting. Many more years went by and things got better. We got better. Photography became that sweet sentiment between us.”

 Juror's Choice image Belleville

As a new parent, Mignogna has a more flexible schedule than his father did, and has loved sharing his passion for photography with his son. Even though his son is still much too young to understand, Mignogna sometimes holds him while washing a print, delighting in his curiosity.  

Egg 2

Mostly known for his black and white documentary work, Mignogna has recently begun to show his body of abstract work and the response has been very positive, like earning him the Juror’s Choice award. Mignogna admits to becoming so absorbed into a particular technique or subject that the work begins to look forced or stale. He is embracing this new direction as a way to shake up his work and his own artistic vision. Moving between two very different styles of work can refresh his perspective.


One of the most compelling reasons Mignogna has chosen photography as his medium is its ability to “describe what exists in the world…and what exists in the world is miraculous. ”Regardless of technique or subject, he thinks of his photographs an act of veneration. With his abstracts especially he feels a kind of communion with the world and the divine. Perhaps that is one reason why he chooses to ignore the labels so common in the world of contemporary art. “I find the more I think about trends and movements in contemporary art, or what the market is interested I get very anxious. It’s a good way to kill your love, you know? If I had to think about what others would like I would probably give myself an ulcer.”

Instead, Mignogna prefers to create work that speaks to him when he’s out in the world. Looking for a balance between the manmade and the natural, he responds to graphics around him. He loves using abstractions to challenge the audience’s experience of looking at a photograph. “That is the reason I first started shooting abstracts. People are so used to photography as a tool, and their life is so full of these symbols that they lose the ability to view in image critically. Abstraction subjugates this kind of consumption.” And his proven ability to alter viewers’ sensibilities about the definition of photography just goes to show that he has been successful in his endeavors. Mignogna’s compositions reference the New York School of abstract expressionism. Printing onto canvas, these photographs are sometimes mistaken for paintings, but he hopes that the viewers will look closely for the subtle differences between the two.

Englewood Cliffs

In the Abstract is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through May 31, 2014.

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