September 16, 2021 – January 2, 2022
My love affair with California began when I was five. My mother, a war widow, took my siblings and me on a three-month road trip from Upstate New York to California. Somewhere deep inside, I filed away Kodak memories of that trip. Later, as an adult living in New York City with a magnificent view of the Hudson, I would sometimes conjure up those images of California. Eventually, as a photographer, I went to look for them.
Over the decades since, I have wandered California for weeks at a time, marveling at the landscape and the beauty to be found there. When I find what feels like the right spot, I can lose myself in the view, in the forms, tonalities, and colors of the land as rendered by light. An hour later, the light will have changed. The view is still there, but the magic is gone. At its most basic, making a photograph is deciding where and when to trip the shutter.
But it’s so much more. My goal in making landscape photographs is to frame what’s there, sure, but also to comment on how we humans encounter, occupy, and inevitably, alter the land. Whether it’s a massive concrete dam, an odd assortment of folding chairs, or a strip of red tape wrapped around a tree, we humans make our mark. A landscape touched by humans implies a narrative, though usually an ambiguous one. Who positioned the two folding chairs where the paths converge in the desert? Maybe some folks from the nudist encampment nearby. With their prominence in the foreground, the chairs also remind you that I was there, designing the stage set that is the panoramic view. After all, the very word “landscape” implies a picture, a human construct.
Each body of work calls for a different aesthetic and often a different camera format, as the two groups of photographs exhibited here suggest. The panoramic photographs offer broad views with what I call a “democracy of interest”. The eye is encouraged to roam the space, investigating what’s left, right, and center, making connections between the photographs’ elements. But deep space plays a part in these photographs too, since there are few trees in the arid landscapes that is the photographs’ subject. With the “portraits” of California trees, on the other hand, it’s all about the trees, just what’s missing from the panoramas. I get in close, often framing only a central portion of the tree so as to emphasize the trees’ surface and structure. Often, I position the trees smack in the center of the frame so they demand your attention. Deep space is unimportant. Yet even with the trees, natural features of the landscape, subtle manmade elements find their way into the frame too. Looking at landscape, we see ourselves.
Image: Karen Halverson, Furnace Creek, Death Valley, CA. Photo Copyright: Karen Halverson