Photo Exhibit at Pierce Cedar Creek Opens on 12/15/2019

Runs through 2/28/2020

All of the prints that are in the exhibit can be seen here on this site. Look for more posts on the exhibit as we finalize things. We’ll actually be hanging the prints on 12/2/19, but we will be at a reception for the exhibit on the 15th. We’re very excited about it, and grateful to Cedar Creek Institute, and particularly Michelle Skedgell, the executive director, for her original idea for the exhibit and for Cedar Creek’s support over the two years it has taken to put all the images together. You can’t hurry up a four seasons photography project!

Bob on the Four Seasons Cedar Creek Photography Project

It is interesting how one thing leads to another, usually in an unpredictable manner. As an example, two summers ago I was nursing a very sore knee, while my wife, son, and his family were walking one of the Pierce Cedar Creek trails. I was in the parking lot, sitting on the door sill of our van, and walking no more than a few feet to take pictures (mostly close-ups) of the native plant gardens that make up the berm and decorate the parking lot median. A lady, who I came to realize was Michelle Skedgell, the Pierce executive director, thoughtfully came over to me, as an old guy sitting on a van door sill can mean maybe there’s a problem, and started chatting.

She asked if I did a lot of photography around Pierce, and if so would I mind sharing some of them. I said sure, and she said she had a long term dream for a photo project, and would my wife and I like to talk about it with her. So we set up a meeting and the four season Pierce Cedar Creek Photo project was born. We’re grateful to Michelle for her idea, which was to take various shots around the PCC grounds, each shot being the same view of the four seasons. If there is anything that is an example of one thing leading, somewhat predictably and yet spontaneously, to another, it is the progression of the seasons. However, while they progress through time, they still return, always to the point where they began. But every thing is always changing, decaying, dying, growing, evolving, going in unexpected directions. This was driven home dramatically as we made our way to the several photo shot sites we picked to capture images every three months. Some were easy to find, and some were difficult or impossible. Once a tree fell over Cedar Creek, completely eliminating a shot. Sometimes a shot that was beautiful in one season was completely nondescript in the next season, so it became a single season shot, of aesthetic necessity.

Looking back, what do I think? This project seemed to uncover something profound, in the final analysis. That is, that the passage of time is not simply the movement of a clock’s hands, nor the turning over of calendar pages. The passage of time is actually a palpable thing, measured in subtle or dramatic changes; the birth of the new, and the death of the old. What became quite moving, as we went along, was that this passage could be captured with a camera as long as you’re willing to keep going back to the scenes, humbly, as on a pilgrimage. Nature unveils that passage of time through the changes it reveals, but it requires patience, and a lot of walking!  By the way, all that walking got my knee completely better, no surgery and no medication, fortunately. Nature seems always to make regeneration possible, as the forest, wetlands, and prairies slowly and majestically reveal.

Traveling To Nature

When we are alienated from nature to the point that we are rapidly destroying it – the plants, soils, insects, birds, and animals – walking through nature can seem like entering another country. And going to another country can be difficult. The language , sights, sounds, and dress are foreign, strange, and unfamiliar. But entering this forgotten country with a forgotten language and rare colors can also seem hauntingly familiar, like going to a long lost home.

Entering, with a passport made only of a promise to see, I was always greeted by a trillion eyes of silent perception, never asking who “I” was, but instead gradually pulling me into a wider world of immersion and communication.

To see this country of nature, I needed many different types of lenses, similar to the multiple lenses of a bug, which allow view upon view, from every possible angle and viewpoint. One set of eyes would never be enough to see all there is to see – sights waiting to be explored and uncovered. How can I ever see enough and what would happen if I see too much and walk through a looking glass into another world altogether?

This country is warm, tropical, and never ending, only faintly explored with my relatively crude camera lens, but this country is home, infinitely friendly, consoling, enshrouding, merciful, and ecstatic.

About Surrealism and Tonalism

Surrealism

I’ve admired the Surrealism movement of the 1920’s and thirties, not for its cynical shock value, but for its core idea that juxtaposition can alter our perceptions and create new visual experiences and thoughts. The Surrealism movement had quickly burned itself out, not because its core idea was empty, but it seemed to me to lack integration with our understanding of the wider world of art. In this failure to rest on any historic precedents, it fulfilled a very modern notion – the idea of complete originality. Like finding a true black in nature, this notion is an impossibility because it doesn’t exist. To disengage the viewer from any relationship with art history is a push toward a most modern experience of isolation and emptiness. I recently saw an exhibit at the University of Michigan Art Museum titled:  Copies and Invention in East Asia (on till January 5, 2020). This exhibit challenges “ our understanding of originality, and presents copying as an act of imaginative interpretation.” Throughout the long history of Asian art, copies of a master’s work were venerated as important and valuable works of art, and the artists even went so far as to use the signature of the original artist, with the complete understanding that this was simply part of the copy. These copied works were hung in important places and honored as highly as the original work itself. It was the modern idea of originality that brought us to this distorted and floating version of surrealism.

tonalism

Reflections, a painting by Charles Harry Eaton
Reflections, by Charles Harry Eaton

“The Escape of Time” photo rests on the Tonalist Movement in America, roughly 1880 – 1920, with its emphasis on subtle and blended forms and colors, and placid and contemplative feeling. In an article for Artsy.net, Tonalism historian and author, David Adams Cleveland, who wrote A History of American Tonalism, describes this 1910 Charles Harry Eaton’s Reflections as a depiction of “scintilating light and a visual feeling of pulsing movement, as if the landscape is a living-breathing organism” – a quality I can only hope to achieve. But I hope to give Surrealism an historic and well understood context with which to frame the gently unexpected.

The Last Day of Summer

This summer of 2018 we had several stretches of 90 degree days. Temperatures somehow make it into a photo – trees and plants look bedraggled and unhappy,   even the air itself trying to vanish and say little. So we felt compelled to wait for more evocative air. Our shot was to be the beautiful main building of Pierce Cedar Creek Institute. We were hoping for a dynamic sky to frame and add even more drama to the building. Finally the end of the summer approached, so I thought that the last day of summer could be a sub theme of the photo. Bravely, I titled the photo before we went out to take it:  The Last Day of Summer. That meant we had to hope for a sky depicting both the oncoming fall and the departing summer on September 21:  brooding clouds and a lively sun having a last conversation.

The weather report looked promising with a front moving across the area, so we headed out to observe the skies. However, when we arrived in the late afternoon, our favorite time of day for sun angles, there were many distractions in our frame, which needed to be exactly the same as our other season shots. There were painters on the veranda and a car sitting nearby in the frame. As we sat and  patiently waited for the painters, the sky darkened ominously. We finally decided to leave rationalizing that well, the solstice probably technically occurred at some point the next day and we could come back.

On the drive home, I kept reviewing the sky we were missing. The dark cloud canopy seemed to be giving way to sun at least intermittently. So we turned around, determined to get this sky and hope that the painters and their car left “the frame”. When we arrived, the painters were indeed packing up, but so was our sky. We knew we had to race around the track (er trail) to get to our position. Running that hard with all of our camera gear almost guaranteed an “art attack”. With luck, we made it just in time, as the summer sun was exiting behind the dark bank of clouds. It seemed we saw that final moment when summer left, when the high sun danced away taking the hummingbirds with it. It was dramatic, it was heart stopping, and it was the last day of summer:

Last day of Summer