LANDSCAPES 2019: IN RELATION TO THE LAND
It is always a powerful lesson to jury a large group of photographs, with the aim of selecting just a tiny fraction for an exhibition. As a curator for an academic research center, I work with an amazing collection of photographs from throughout the history of the medium. The process of jurying, however, opens my eyes to what photographers in this immediate moment are seeing, thinking about, and concerned with.
Two themes emerged, each of which support the exhibition title “In Relations to the Land,” and have been interpreted by these photographers with intensity and passion. On the one hand, photographers are deeply attuned to environmental concerns: wasteful farming practices, melting glaciers, destructive storms, rising water levels, pollution, alternative energy sources, and loosening regulations. In the activist mode of Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, or Edward Burtynsky, these photographers use their craft to direct our attention to issues that we, as American citizens, might otherwise overlook. On the other hand, the interaction between individual people and the landscapes that surround them remains a meaningful source for artistic production, as it has been for artists like Harry Callahan, Sally Mann, or David Hilliard. Here we see personal landscapes in which people encounter the specificity of place through their unique perspective and reveal the narrative of their life (or that of their family) with sizzling insight.
We cannot separate ourselves from the land on which we live, learn, explore, and survive. Through the vision of these 36 photographers, however, we may be able to see it more acutely. What will we take away? How will we extend the lessons of this exhibition into our own lives and perspectives? It is for each of us to contemplate, based on the broad and diverse photographs brought together, all expressing how we exist in relation to the land.
Rebecca A. Senf, Chief Curator, Center for Creative Photography, at the University of Arizona, Tucson