As a discipline and tool for observation, photography occupies a place in both the sciences and art. In turn, photo-documentary practice is predicated upon a kind of inductivism, one reliant upon acquiring knowledge through detailed observation. Landscape has always been an important genre and subject matter for this process. To some extent, photography has forced nature to reveal her secrets, but for science, the natural world is always an unstable object encompassing elements of elusiveness and availability. The photograph operates through freezing a moment in time, and contributes to locating and dislocating time, space, history, and geography.
some landings/certains débarquements brings together five bodies of work that are informed by these issues and bracketed by two distinct approaches to the landscape: one that reduces it to an essentially topographic state, and one that portrays the effects of human intervention. The work of Jesse Boles, Robert Burley, L. E. Glazer, Sue Lloyd, and Lisa Murzin might at first glance appear to reflect a detached perspective, when in fact it is decidedly engaged, subtly revealing analytical vantage points.
Lisa Murzin’s photographs, Grey Bruce County Farms (2015 – 16), depict family farms with vast tracts of furrowed fields circumscribed by aging infrastructures and woodlots. Her images serve to gently remind viewers that farming is one of the most ancient forms of terraforming—a method of deliberately modifying surface topography or ecology to allow for greater agrarian benefit. Until recently, the agrarian process allowed for a modicum of stewardship of the environment. Murzin’s images reveal the increasingly vulnerable conditions of farms and farmers as industrial agriculture replaces men with machines, and the culture they built with a value system only concerned with the bottom line.
Sue Lloyd’s suite of large-scale collaged photo-documents, titled Picton Woodlot (2013), derives from her family’s small ancestral woodlot in Prince Edward County. A personal anchor for Lloyd, the place is, by nature, equally beautiful and inhospitable. Her images are comprised of a multitude of camera-raw files captured from a stationery vantage point over a long duration, which are then digitally stitched together. Besides exposing the subjectivity of her lens-based imagery by using the language of the collage process, which indicates the artist’s intervention, they mark the woodlot as a domesticated site used for limited but regular harvesting of firewood. Both firewood collection and photo-collage reference slow, laborious processes. Consequently, Lloyd’s time-consuming methods result in images that capture an extended personal relationship with the land.
L.E. Glazer’s series of photographs, Wish You Were Here (2015 – 16), references the ubiquity of golf course imagery in popular sport, as well as resort and retail real estate campaigns. The works depict the synthetic design of some of North America’s most famous and unnaturally green golf courses as large-scale dye sublimation prints on aluminum. Using aerial and drone photography, Glazer engages technologies to articulate the artificial quality of these locations, which are often maintained in drought-afflicted locales. His prints reveal how unnatural digital manipulations of topographic patterns come to stand in for the timeless perception of grand natural landscapes.
Robert Burley’s large-format camera photographs of North America’s Great Lakes, taken using long exposures in the light of early dawn, show riparian landscapes that vary from remote natural wilderness to the man-made edges of some of the world’s largest cities. They serve as vital records—presenting “objective” observations and analytical reflections of the world’s largest, but increasingly vulnerable freshwater bodies—while maintaining a poetic and meditative resonance. Whether along the ancient north shore of Lake Superior or on a recently created landfill at the edge of Lake Ontario, The Great Lakes series (2002 – 07) reflects the places where land, water, and sky come together.
Jesse Boles’ Bois Mitraillés (strafed trees) (2014 – 15) consists of large-scale photographs and videos of the Ardennes and Vosges forests. These French forests are the historical sites where wars from the past century were fought, and can be viewed as living archives preserving the memories of historic battles. For The Loss Library (2015), Boles fills a series of vitrines with the physical evidence of these conflicts, including pieces of shrapnel removed from deep within the forest tree trunks and cross-section samples of wood.
The artists’ works offer instances of how the effects of human existence translate on various topographies and how these unnatural manipulations have come to take the place of natural landscapes. Together, they continue an ongoing discussion about how photography informs notions about the state of nature and the representation of what is natural.
Organized by and presented in partnership with John B. Aird Gallery