Petaluma stay-at-home mom is Insta-star

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Find Ali Jardine on Instagram @alijardine

Growing up in rural Mississippi, Ali Jardine learned to appreciate a good yarn.

The southern way of telling a story, so often a woven tapestry of half-truths and myth, infuses Jardine’s photographs. They embellish reality in a way one might call Faulknerian.

“I believe the world is an incredibly beautiful, enchanted, magical place but also dark, mysterious and sometimes lonely,” Jardine wrote in the artist biography on her Facebook page, which has 10,000 “likes.”

More than 500,000 people follow the Petaluma stay-at-home mother on Instagram. While that’s not Justin Bieber fame (the Biebs has 24 million Instagram devotees), Jardine certainly flirts with online celebrity status.

People from around the world are drawn to her world of magic and wonder, possibly for the same reason they gobble up fantasy games, books and TV shows. The genre offers relief from the everyday by hinting at the universe’s deeper meanings and mysteries.

Remarkably, Jardine, 42, creates her art using nothing more than an iPhone 6 and photo editing applications — but not Adobe Photoshop. Referring to her work as “iPhoneography,” she embodies the modern visual artist who, rather than renting gallery space, finds his or her audience in the unlimited expanse of cyberspace.

In one haunting image called “Journey to the Center of the Universe,” a girl standing in an overturned umbrella stares into a tunnel surrounded by stars. The girl is Jardine’s 12-year-old daughter, Pippin, who along with her brother, Gabe, 15, feature prominently in their mother’s art.

That particular image garnered 11,500 “likes” on Instagram. Even a rather pedestrian photo — by Jardine’s standards — of a recent lunar eclipse garnered 12,000 “likes” on the photo sharing app.

Seated at a table in her kitchen, Jardine looked less like a wizard of online imagery and more like a mom who was about to be late to her daughter’s gymnastics practice. She sipped hot tea, and when she spoke, it was in a voice inflected with her Southern drawl.

Expansive with her art, Jardine in person was understated, even a bit shy. She said she was instantly intrigued by Instagram when she downloaded the photo-sharing app in 2010 and started posting images of her work.

“It was instant feedback,” she said.

Jardine, whose husband, Jason Jardine, is president of Sonoma’s Hanzell Winery, has successfully parlayed her artwork into a lucrative part-time career. Companies ranging from Samsung to HP and Dos Equis have hired her to create online content. In October, the Bermuda Tourism Board also paid her to photograph the island territory.

Jardine grew up in Senatobia, Miss., part of metropolitan Memphis. Her father is a stock broker who still lives in Memphis. Her mother is a writer who lives in rural Mississippi. Jardine’s sister also is into art.

Terry Pegram, a retired art teacher at Senatobia High School, recalled having Jardine in her class for gifted art students. She remembers Jardine as a fun person to be around but also someone who was serious about her art. As a teen, she stood out among students trying to create art that was more than a reflection of work that had already been done.

Pegram said, “My students would look at a Picasso and say, ‘I can do that.’ ‘But you didn’t,’ I’d tell them. ‘He did.’ (Ali) came up with something that is all her own. I haven’t seen anything like it. It impresses me.”

Jardine majored in psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi, with minors in English and art. She and her husband met after college at Yosemite National Park, where they worked in housekeeping and cleaned up after guests.

Jardine’s art evokes a sense of wanderlust, as well as detachment and longing. Jardine described herself as a “day-to-day” person and her family as “nomadic” because of the number of times they’ve moved.

And yet, many of her photographs repeat familiar elements, including a tree in Petaluma’s Helen Putnam Park that Jardine estimates she has shot upwards of 1,000 times.

But in Jardine’s world, very little is what it appears to be. The images uploaded to instagram.com/alijardine distort the familiar in ways that comfort and disturb. Jardine’s email address, perceptionofbeing@yahoo.com, reflects that outlook.

Jardine acknowledged the grind of what she refers to as a “job,” saying she has to “feed the beast” by posting a new image to her online accounts at least once a day just to maintain viewer interest.

But she also appreciates having the freedom to explore without having to rely on her work to pay the family’s bills.

“I’m very lucky in that sense,” she said. “I could walk away from it anytime. But it’s something I’ve built, and I’m proud of it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

Find Ali Jardine on Instagram @alijardine

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