Arctic Photographic Series
Photographs taken on a sea voyage to Arctic Norway and Svalbard aim to capture characteristic aspects of the northern environment and its history. I hope to develop this project further by traveling to the Canadian Arctic and the Russian Arctic. Eventually, I hope to get to Antarctica as well.
Stylistically these are relatively straightforward color photographs intended to document striking aspects of the Arctic: its remoteness and its elemental beauty (made up of earth, air, and water, and requiring the fourth element, fire, to keep the photographer alive). Plants are present on some shorelines of islands and archipelagoes, but they are small in comparison to the expanses of mountains, glaciers, seas, and skies.
The scale of the arctic is difficult to represent in photographs, for there are no trees or structures to help us estimate distances and proportions. Light conditions– sun, fog, and weather can make mountains seem to disappear in the distance like mirages, or alternatively, can make them seem to loom like great black masses of stone. Clouds appear to cut mountains in half. And of course, the midnight sun gives special light effects – several of the brightest photographs in this group were taken at midnight.
There is considerable evidence of wildlife, both the low carpet of plants and land and water mammals. What one sees on land, though, are mostly remains: dead plants next to living ones, antlers and hair shed by reindeer, bird skulls, the odd bone. These photographs aim to document fauna and flora by what remains are found on the land.
Evidence of human greed, and the difficulty of human survival in the Arctic, is visible throughout Svalbard: whale skeletons overgrown by moss, collapsed fox traps, disintegrating hunters’ cabins, rusted mining equipment, industrial refuse. These photographs attempt to document this human history of exploitation through inference, using the remains of material culture.
Dream Forest Photographic Series
I photograph trees and reflections of trees in water to invite viewers to reflect on the future role of forests in our world– they are the planet’s imperiled lungs.
Much of the world has a history of deforestation. After the ancient Greeks and Romans harvested Mediterranean forests, the dirt blew away. Today, the media bring us alarming stories of clear-cutting in the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon, and Indonesia.
What is the future of the world’s forests in a time of drought and climate change? Will unsustainable clear-cutting continue until the last wild tree goes the way of the last passenger pigeon or the last drop of oil?
Over several years, I have photographed reflections in water, and I find the reflections of trees in water visually more interesting than straight portraits of trees themselves. The play of light and air on water yields images that are more painterly and less literal, more poetic, more emotional, more colorful, at times more grotesque. Manipulation in Photoshop has been kept to a minimum– these are largely undoctored images.
Photographing reflections in water increases the number of picture planes in an image. Since photography is a two-dimensional illusionistic medium, this interests me. The surface of the water is one plane: on it lies the literal reflection and perhaps added patterns of light and shadow. More planes lie below the surface, since water is a transparent medium–down to the bottom of the pond or stream.
I often turn the reflected images of trees upside down, to make them look like “real” trees. This changes the light and atmosphere into something rich and strange, just as dreams transform the events of our lives. These “dream forest” images may look as though they come from another planet, but they are intended to make viewers think about trees – what they mean to us, how we take them for granted, how they colonize earth and air, how they speak to us, how we destroy them... The images are intended to be unsettling, to open thought.
Flora - Black & White Photographic Series
By photographing garden flowers in black and white closeup, I aim to focus on the formal elements of each blossom without the “distraction” of color.
Common garden flowers have always communicated a mixture of beauty and emotion to me. Unfashionable as it may be to attempt to represent “beauty” in this era of postmodern grittiness, I continue to believe that the depiction of beauty – whether in form or content – is an essential function of art and photography.
By focusing on the amazing and complex inner forms of flowers, as details are revealed by wind, light, rain, and general weather, I hope to bring viewers close enough to evoke a sense of wonder. This iconization of images from nature also invites the viewer to meditate on the passage of time, the cycles of plant life, and other ecological issues.
Most of the images in this project began as color digital images, though some are from gelatin silver negatives. I have limited manipulation in Photoshop to black and white conversion from color, some cropping, and slight tweaks of brightness and contrast.
I hope that the relative simplicity (or austerity) of black and white enables the viewer to “see” into essential natural form and to “feel” something of the lives of the flowers.
Lotus Land Photographic Series
By photographing Lotus waterlilies and their reflections in water, I aim to use a plantmotif that has figured prominently in non-western art to explore complexities of form and color and to question the idea of photographic “reality.”
One of my earliest childhood memories is of visits to a lily pond. Perhaps this accounts for my interest in photographing plants near water. While I was working on a project photographing architectural reflections in canals, I found that reflections of lotus plants offered particularly rich material for visual exploration. In various seasons, times of day, and weather conditions, the leaves look completely different.
By rotating photographs of reflected plants upside down, I am attempting to raise questions about the nature of photographed reality. How can lotus leaves fly through the sky? Can flying lotus leaves block the view of a forest? Where does a leaf end and its reflection begin? Do plants literally bow down as winter approaches?
During the late 19th century, considerable ink was expended debating whether photography was primarily an art or a science. I’m coming down here on the side of thought-provoking art, though obviously the sciences of optics and light play essential roles.
When I was a student at Berkeley, I often heard California referred to as “Lotus Land,” a kind of sybaritic Xanadu. Although some of the plants in these images are indeed growing in California, others thrive in the more austere confines of New England and Northern Europe.
Venice Canal Photographic Series
This project creates altered images of the architect-designed trophy houses that are gradually replacing the early 20th century bungalows of the Venice Canals in Los Angeles. As late afternoon sunlight glances off the brackish water of the canals, wind patterns on water create fascinating reflections easily captured by a digital camera.
The Venice canals, constructed from a former wetland, are a world apart from the networks of highways and ethnic neighborhoods that make up Los Angeles. Originally developed on small canal-facing lots, the old bungalows are being torn down and replaced by opulent houses that aim to make major architectural statements.
However one may lament the obliteration of an historic neighborhood, the exterior details of these new mansions combine and recombine to form striking water reflections, turning architecture into abstraction.
The ability of the digital camera to stop motion precisely seems key here, as wind gusts on the canal surface break the images of facades into swirls or pointillist cascades. Additional textures come from the braided wakes left by resident ducks and the occasional kayaker.
Although the images do not literally represent the houses, the impulse behind them is essentially documentary. The bright colors and details of the houses become even more exuberant when translated onto the multiple picture planes of the canals. On the surface, we see reflections and shadows, as well as bits of floating detritus. Below the surface, we see into the depth of the water, even to the plane of the bottom when the light permits. Some of the reflections have been turned upside down to suggest an alternate version of “reality.”
I have done almost no manipulation of these images in Photoshop. Occasional cropping, but nothing more. The images are left to speak for themselves. While making them, I felt delight and joy at discovering a kind of hidden world of pure color and abstract form under the surface of reality, so to speak. I hope to communicate this to the viewer.
Wasteland - Hand Colored Digital Photographic Prints
Nothing Artificial Added: Trash in the Wilderness
About ten years ago, I began this documentary project while on a field trip to view midsummer wildflowers in state and national parks. As my fellow hikers were photographing plants and scenic vistas, I was shocked by the trash omnipresent in the most “pristine” wilderness settings, and I decided, perhaps perversely, to photograph trash rather than flora.
I thought the documentary thrust of the photographs might best be realized in black and white – but after changing them to monochrome, I was dismayed to see the trash tended to blend into the background grasses and pebbles– a not at all desirable effect. So I decided to hand-color the trash to make it stand out against the environment into which it had been so thoughtlessly dropped.
Restoring color to create a focal point in a black-and-white image proved to be an absorbing, even thrilling exercise in imitating the camera’s color capture. It gave me pause to realize I was iconizing trash, even beautifying it, using pastel pencils, when I aimed to create images of ugly or inappropriate objects that would make viewers reflect. Perhaps, though, this ambiguity might itself provoke thought.
Much controversial writing has been devoted recently to environmental issues, and an entire field of academic inquiry – trash and rubbish studies – has materialized in print. I am reading my way through this literature before writing an essay to accompany a photobook and/or a portfolio of images, all of which are printed on recycled archival paper.