Other Nature

An abstract reflection on photography and the physical world

Works by Lori van Houten, Portia Munson, David Lebe + Jeri Eisenberg

March 12, 2009 through April 19, 2009

Continuing to build on a solid tradition of abstract photography dating back to the early 20th century, the work in Other Nature uses photography to leap from reality into the realm of abstraction through a variety of techniques and processes. Using scanography, photograms, and digital technology, the photographers in this show are able to depict an alternate view of nature, while simultaneously questioning and treading upon the accepted traditions of the medium.

Lori Van Houten’s work consists of large, horizontal, photo-based works on paper. Each piece makes use of both overlay and juxtaposition, and starts with an underlying image which is generally formed from several related images photographed at the same site. The underlying photomontage is covered with a textile image that serves as both a concealing and revealing element in the process. These layers are in turn combined with layers of additional photographs, fragments of photographs, herbarium samples and other imagery, all interacting to form the final piece. In these complex arrangements, Van Houten’s work blurs the distinctions between the real, the illusive, and the documentation of both.


By photographing her favorite treed landscapes with a purposefully oversized pinhole or a radically defocused lens, Jeri Eisenberg captures them as they are not often seen. The images are firmly grounded in the natural world, a particular place, a particular season, a particular time. By obscuring detail, only the strongest brush strokes emerge: the images become sketches with light, literally and figuratively. "They float between there and not there", Eisenberg explains, "dissolving into abstraction and reconfiguring themselves into recognizable form. They are the trees seen through eyelashes of mostly closed eyes on bright sunny days; the trees seen through heavily falling snow; the trees of memory; the trees one might reach for before slipping from conscious life."


The very soft-focused, painterly images are printed digitally on delicate and translucent Japanese Kozo paper. Through the depiction of a succession of seasons, the work echoes life’s temporal cycles. "It succeeds for me" Eisenberg continues, "when it provides fragmentary glimpses of the beauty that exists in the everyday natural world, glimpses that console, even as they are tinged with a sadness of the awareness of their transience. If it provides a hint of the infinite and eternal in the here and now, I am all the more pleased."


Portia Munson is inspired by the simple perfect symmetry and beauty found in the most ordinary of flowers, stones, animals, and natural objects. In this exhibit, a large photograph depicts a nighttime forest scene, at once fanciful and frightening. In this wooded landscape two worlds seemingly collide – the visible natural world and a fantastical imagined one. Munson explains, “When I come across a dead animal I make scans of it then I work with these animal scans along with flower arrangements, photos and scans, sort of memorial still lives. I‘ve been creating constellations of these images along with landscape images as the context, attempting to create a peaceful haunting (dreamlike) narrative. All of this work is a reflection on the environment, being conscience of our connection to the earth; the mysterious, intelligent, quiet existence of the woods."


Also pulling inspiration from nature is photographer David Lebe. In a series of meticulously hand-painted photograms, Lebe has arranged flowers, leaves, seedlings and other specimens into a constructed landscape of sorts; floating in the middle of some vast celestial sky, or growing from the earth against a background of soft pink clouds.


Photograms are a cameraless photograph made by placing objects directly on or just above light sensitive material and then exposing the light sensitive material to light. The shadows of the objects create the white areas.  The black areas are where the light struck the light sensitive material enough to fully expose it.  By using objects that let only some light reach the light sensitive material grays are created.  What results is, essentially, a large negative. What was light is dark and what was in shadow is light.  


Lebe made these photograms on silver photographic paper. In some cases he contact printed the original negative photograms to reverse their tones.  The images with a predominately black ground are the negatives and the ones with predominately light ground are the positives.  Lebe then hand painted these prints with water color.


Artists in this show

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