Blog / Work of the Week: Outside Amarillo by MJ Sharp

Posted by Kristie Landing


The next time you visit Light Sensitive, here’s some advice: spend some extra time at the end.  Or, even better, enter in the exit.  It will be like ordering dessert first.  Why? Hanging solo on the last wall of the exhibition is the work, Outside Amarillo, 2006, by MJ Sharp.  Shot in the dead of night, Outside Amarillo depicts a silo next to a small ranch under a vast aquamarine sky.  The photograph wash composed with help of a friendly police officer who happened to drive by. His spotlight allowed Sharp to even see the silo, but the end product is a visual feast.

Born in Tennessee, Sharp attended Duke University as an undergraduate and UNC-Chapel Hill for her Master of Fine Arts degree.  She currently lives in Durham, but has free-lanced regionally for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, PBS’s Frontline, The Columbia Journalism Review, The Ford Foundation, and others. The Nasher Museum recently welcomed Sharp for a lecture and we got to learn a little about her love of the South, her nighttime photography techniques, and everything else…including her kitchen sink.

As in Outside Amarillo, most of Sharp’s works are shot under the moonlight, using long exposure.  Due to the time it takes for this technique to work, Sharp says her photographs need “4 minutes, 40 minutes, or 3 hours…To take a picture is a commitment.”  While this requires a lot of patience, the effect is a work of a magical quality.  When looking at the silo and starless sky, I feel a sense of peace that would not be the same during the day.  Without use of Photoshop or other photo-editing tools, Sharp captured the bucolic countryside in a thought-provoking way.

With a chuckle, Sharp explained that she has “two modes: One that runs through the grass in the Scottish highlands, and the other that stares at things decomposing in the kitchen sink.”  In her interior photographs, she focuses on spoiled food, toiletries like soap, and other household objects.  To make something beautiful out of a pile of laundry is not the easiest feat, but Sharp has certainly done it.  In her lecture, she described how the photograph, Peeled Onions came to be.  Finding that her newly bought bag of organic onions was completely spoiled, she hurled all the onions in the sink.  She was about to dispose of them when she thought, “Oh wait.”  Turns out the spoiled onions did have purpose, and it wasn’t dinner that night.

Image: MJ Sharp, Outside Amarillo, 2006 (printed 2012). Chromogenic print, edition 2 of 6. 50 x 40 inches (127 x 101.6 cm). Gift of Frank Konhaus, Ellen Cassilly and the Cassilhaus Collection.

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