Cherry Hill: A Childhood Reimagined • Jona Frank SIGNED
Hardcover, 368 pages, 6-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches, The Monacelli Press.
Review by Gabrielle Rael
In Jona Frank’s memoire, Cherry Hill, she guides us through domestic dreamscape images featuring her mother played by Laura Dern and herself portrayed by a variety of actors including Violet Settecase, Jaya Elyse and Imogene Wolodarsky. Jona presents her life’s chronology in vivid visual and verbal recollections of her coming into her own, as a creative and as a woman. Her photographs propel the viewer into her narrative and connect with Jona’s shared intimacy; You feel her growing pains as if they are your own. Her photos capture the everyday; chewing bazooka bubble gum, surrounded by papered walls.
Cherry Hill’s semi-gloss pages are artfully bound in a paper-wrapped, printed cover whose design is reminiscent of blue-and-white porcelain. The patterns depict the artist’s life including a variety of cameras that she may have owned at one time, and everyday banal moments of suburban life. The book Cherry Hill, the newest of Jona Frank’s books, is a tale of liberation. As the book progresses, she is released from traditional ideas of gender expression, abysmal interfamilial communication, stigma of mental illness in dated suburbia and of shitty college boyfriends. Jona is no longer tormented by long silences, her mother’s bundles of sticks, and the fool card but, instead driving into a sunrise of self-determination and newly discovered vitality.
Jona’s narrative includes a few tableaux realist images exemplified in The Rec/Wreck and The Plot to Escape. The Rec/Wreck (illustrated above) is a double-gatefold that depicts the consequences of a joy ride on top of a cherry red convertible. A cast of characters framed by trees and lilac-colored morning glories, fill the scene. The children are scattered throughout the image, dirt in their mouths with scuffed knees. They act disappointed and afraid of repercussions. Distressed neighbors are recounting what they witnessed to police. One woman scolds the teenage boy in cut-off shorts, the likely driver of the car. Young Jona walks her bike away in the background. Holding it by its tasseled handles, you see the dread and longing in her eyes. When folded in, a square image of Jona appears in the same place. Her head turned away, defeated, facing home and the deafening silence of her mother.
The chaos in fold-out image The Plot to Escape (illustrated above) is depicted by a juxtaposition of stagnant suburbia against yearning for her own metamorphosis. The lines of the red and blue strings look like those of evidence boards, connecting juke joints of the Mississippi, shellacked gelatin molds, and Lucky Charms. A book of prayers and grace on one side and the words of Eudora Welty on another. She fittingly says, “If exposure is essential, still more so is the reflection”. Quotes from Flannery O’Connor, Diane Arbus, Dorothea Lange, and Robert Adams cover the map of the United States. Like this image, their works are riddled with Americanism. Many Southern and female artist icons dot the map, conveying Jona’s influence by and obsession with the photographic medium. Here she exhibits her juvenescence, her youth represented by ID photos and paper dolls. The media and their themes of independence, strength, and freedom foretell of Jona’s upcoming summer of 1989 as she plotted and executed her escape.
Jona Frank’s work Cherry Hill is a personal story and a universal story. The photographs and chapters of Remember, Routine, Enough, Tenderness, and Waiting evoke feelings that any anxious child growing up in suburbia during the counterculture movement in America, understands. There is a narrative emerging from the artificial - what suburban America cultivates and, subsequently the dismantling of both external and internal repercussions of white picket fences. It is her story, yet, it is everyone’s story. There are scenes that can translate to every child - ideas of family, institutions, relationships, and, finally, personal identity. This book digs deep into one woman’s journey, yet, we come away with a story for all.