Julie Renée Jones (b. 1984) grew up in a quintessential suburban neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio. Her work is deeply embedded in the experiences of growing up and living in the American Midwest, concentrating on the complexities of aging and memory. She explores the confusion of reality and imagination, where actual event and surreal recollection blur. Julie holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Dayton and received her Master of Fine Arts in photography from Columbia College Chicago.

Julie’s work has been exhibited across the U.S., Canada, and Europe with publications of her work appearing in The British Journal of Photography, Real Simple Magazine, Fraction Magazine, and Italy’s C 41 Magazine, among others. A selection of exhibitions includes Umbra at The Blue House Gallery, 80x80 at The Mint Museum, Space Jamz with the Humble Arts Foundation, and The New Face of Film, a retrospective exhibition of international artists curated by Fotofilmic, at Boise State University’s Visual Arts Center.  Most recently Julie participated in a week-long take-over of the New Yorker Photo’s Instagram page where she shared work from Umbra and new imagery from an emerging project about the weather.

In 2015 she was awarded the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award for her series Umbra. Julie is a Lecturer in photography at the University of Dayton, where she has taught since 2013.


2010 – present

When and where did Umbra begin? 

The idea of Umbra really began in 2009, when I left my home in Dayton Ohio for the first time in my life to live in a new state and city. I was excited about the creative prospects and experiences that come from becoming submersed in a new environment, surrounded by new people, rituals, and histories. But upon arriving in Chicago, I felt completely lost in terms of what I wanted to photograph and what I needed to say. Desperately I sought the comfort and familiarity of home to help spark some inspiration, only to find it much different than how I had left it. 

It is a sentiment that has been echoed before: once you leave home, you can never fully return to it; the world shifts and nostalgia sets in like a veil, obstructing what is from what was. Upon returning home, after only a couple of months away, I was struck with a sadness for the way I had imagined this place to be. Umbra began as a futile attempt to transform this foreign land I had returned to, into the home I sought to regain.

As Umbra evolved, my interests began to shift from the solely personal task of transforming the people and places of my family and home, to investigating the photograph as a vessel for shaping and distorting memory and the act of recollection. I turned to my family’s photographic archive and sought out imagery that tugged at my desire to remember the moment depicted, even if it was one that I couldn’t possible have experienced. I also sorted pictures into “architypes” and marveled at the realization that across the distance of time and space we obsessively record the same life events in similar visual ways; this lead me to research other family photographic archives and the visual rhetoric established for recording family life.

Taking what I had learned, I began recreating both banal and pivotal moments from my own childhood, merging them with the vernacular language of family picture making and the ritual of recording significant “coming of age” events. Some are very obscure and personal while others are recognizable as pictures we may all possess in our photographic archive and memory. I chose to use my own family members and the physical landscape of my childhood as my subjects to increase the tension between recollection and reality – confusing not only the identity and specifics of my subjects and the landscape for the viewer, but my own memories as past and present collided within the resulting imagery. 

Where do you see this body of work going? 

It has taken me a long time to fully realize what Umbra is truly about; as its purpose and meaning has become clearer in the past two years I am now working on gathering the “missing pieces” in the series. This includes photographs necessary to bridge the gap between others, and turning my attention to the setting that they take place within. Back in 2012, I included several landscapes in the series that have sense faded into the background; not because they were not important to the series or that they were something completely different, but they did not quite make sense yet in context with the other imagery.

When Umbra began, I was photographing pretty spontaneously and emotionally. Most recently I have been devoting my time to researching and planning shoots to complete the series; so that the shadow world I have created by reimagining my past can have its own place in time and space. Right now, I see Umbra at the beginning of the end...

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

Teaching really helps! I have been teaching photography for over 10 years now (both in high school and higher education) and I find being surrounded by students who are eager to learn and express themselves keeps me motivated. I’m also constantly learning myself, as I research new techniques and concepts for class. Outside of teaching, I designate a specific day of the week as a “studio day.” Some days are more productive than others, I have had many days where I just sit in the studio and stare into space during that time, but I find that I am able to keep a pretty steady practice by devoting time each week to at least being with the work and my practice. 

In terms of activities or hobbies outside of photography, I enjoy hiking and try to work at least one hike in every other weekend. Ohio isn’t the most challenging landscape for hiking so when I have free time in the summer, I try to do a little bit of traveling across the country. This summer, my boyfriend and I did a 2-week road trip to The Badlands, Devil’s Tower, and Glacier National Park. Hiking and traveling really helps me to get out of my own head and realize new avenues for my current work and inspires new interests for work I’d like to make.

What’s next for you?

This summer I finally began a new photographic project. It’s in its very first stages so I don’t want to say too much, but the newest photographs I have made revolve around the weather and experiences surrounding weather events. I am currently researching how these events shape personal and communal histories and mythologies and the impact the weather has on us emotionally and psychologically. I just got back from visiting The National Weather Service in Wilmington Ohio where I got to participate in a weather balloon launch and was able to learn a bit more about the analytical aspects of meteorology and weather prediction that I hope will inform the highly emotional starting point of the series. 

Despite what the future holds for me artistically I know I want to continue my career in higher education as a photography educator and I am working on expanding my lens-based knowledge in video, implementing it into both my teaching and artistic practices.