Momatiuk and Eastcott’s Snake Rock Pond (June 14,
2009, 2:08 pm).
Center for Photography at Woodstock, through Feb. 28
Woodstock Land Conservancy (WLC), a nonprofit group founded
in 1988, has managed to save more than 1,000 acres of land
from developers’ machines. For this exhibition, the Center
for Photography at Woodstock collaborated with the WLC, and
curator and photographer Dion Ogust gave artists an assignment
they were eager to embrace: range over the Conservancy’s holdings
and make photographic images.
While the works in this small show vary in style and sophistication,
they are all high quality and evince a reverence for place.
And it’s quite a place: Overlook Mountain, birthplace of the
Hudson River School, and the Zena Cornfield (the inspiration
for WLC’s founding, it was used by Native Americans and then
Europeans as early as 1720), these are just two of the preserved
Perhaps both the spirit of conservation and the practice of
art may come from the habit of observation—appreciative, slow
looking. But one must consider, too, that the words “conservative”
and “conservation” are related. As with National Geographic
imagery or the Audubon calendar, nature photography can fall
into the trap of simplifying or glorifying what is complex
and shifting. Nature in this exhibition is not red in tooth
or claw (not even a little bit pink). This isn’t to say the
photographs are lacking in value, just that many partake of
a sometimes sentimental—conservative—nature aesthetic.
As an example, Carla Shapiro’s black-and-white prints are
stylized forest dreamscapes in which light dances on dark
black backgrounds. Less fantastical but just as dreamlike
is Snake Rock Pond (June 14, 2009, 2:08 pm), a large-scale
color panorama by husband-and-wife team Yva Momatiuk and John
Eastcott depicting what seems a sun-dappled child’s summer
day in which the murky pond is festooned with lily pads and
a single, bright pink flower. The almost hyper-real image
plays with perspective so that one feels one is partially
submerged in the water along with the green plants, enveloped
by a cropped and shortened foreground.
Another husband-and-wife team, Williams & Russ, who own
the gallery Photosensualis, take a pictorialist’s approach
to ferns on the forest floor and the multi-toned surface of
a stone wall hung with vines, using smoky greys that give
the prints an antiquated feel.
Also evoking the ephemeral, but taking a less nostalgic stance,
Gay Leonhardt erases portions of color photographs: in Expanding
Field, a hill and field are seen as if through a streaked
glass; Frost Rising captures the ethereality of a misty,
frost-covered field and the line where a mower stopped. She
is interested in that boundary between the wild and the civilized
in her artist’s book, too (titled Whereas), which
juxtaposes images with legal easement text.
Fawn Potash, in works from her series Looking at the Planet
with Seven Eyes and starting with a satellite image of
conservancy land, uses encaustic and found materials to create
what seem more like tiles or assemblages than photographs.
Back in the realm of traditional nature photography are a
group of delightful color photographs of birds doing their
twittery things, by Peter Schoenberger.
Straight or realistic photographs capture the natural world
with honesty, but abstraction can distill the elements. In
one of Bill Miles’ superior black-and-white images, framed
in rough wood planks, we encounter the classical snow-capped
mountain form of a submerged rock speckled with lichen at
Snake Rock, topped by reflected trees. Miles uses exaggerated
contrast to emphasize the stark harmony of a stand of trees
in winter in another image.
Minus the heightened abstraction but also using a minimalist’s
approach is Richard Edelman, whose winter photos were among
my favorites. He gives us branch shadows hovering on a sand-colored
wall, while in another, a blasted tree trunk keeps a lookout
on a lonely outcropping, and the land seems to become an all-encompassing
physical presence that dwarfs the viewer. Images of California
Quarry and Sloan Gorge capture the age-worn character of fragmented
shale and boulders. The understated Zena Cornfield #1
uses a wide, flat perspective to capture the field under cover
And not to be missed are the photographs taken by children
participating through the Woodstock Elementary School: Go
to the Center for Photography’s Flickr site to admire how
they caught details closer to the ground.
Our visual culture and the politics of land use are interdependent,
and it matters how we envision nature. Natural landscape photography,
when it transcends cliché, can bring us into a more complex,
site-specific relationship with the world, and I hope such
collaborative efforts continue.