Serving Amherst, Hadley, and surrounding communities
Clear
22°
Clear
Hi 32° | Lo 4°

Show at University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a different take on landscape photography

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>"Ma'ale Adumim (Pop. 34,324), Occupied Territories" by photographers Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    "Ma'ale Adumim (Pop. 34,324), Occupied Territories" by photographers Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Richard Mosse's "Colonel Soleil's Boys"

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    Richard Mosse's "Colonel Soleil's Boys"

  • COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Doug Rickard's "#82.948842, Detroit, MI. 2009. Rickard seizes images from Google's Street View program, downloads and re-purposes them to create "a kind of virtual exploration of the cultural geography of America's devastated inner cities ..." according to the exhibit's catalog notes.

    COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    Doug Rickard's "#82.948842, Detroit, MI. 2009. Rickard seizes images from Google's Street View program, downloads and re-purposes them to create "a kind of virtual exploration of the cultural geography of America's devastated inner cities ..." according to the exhibit's catalog notes.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>In his series "Transparent City," German photographer Michael Wolf documents Chicago's architecture and environmental context.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    In his series "Transparent City," German photographer Michael Wolf documents Chicago's architecture and environmental context.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Simon Norfolk's "Fantasma en la Ciudad." Norfolk views the landscape "not as something primordial and innocent, but as inhabited, aculturated and, in many places, despoiled," according to exhibit notes.

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    Simon Norfolk's "Fantasma en la Ciudad." Norfolk views the landscape "not as something primordial and innocent, but as inhabited, aculturated and, in many places, despoiled," according to exhibit notes.

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Dave Jordano "demonstrates a lyrical understanding of the street, an intuitive feeling for its patina, and an eye for revealing detail," according to the exhibit catalog. Shown here: "Detroit Stump"

    PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY
    Dave Jordano "demonstrates a lyrical understanding of the street, an intuitive feeling for its patina, and an eye for revealing detail," according to the exhibit catalog. Shown here: "Detroit Stump"

  • Table set for thanksgiving meal

    Table set for thanksgiving meal

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>"Ma'ale Adumim (Pop. 34,324), Occupied Territories" by photographers Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Richard Mosse's "Colonel Soleil's Boys"
  • COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Doug Rickard's "#82.948842, Detroit, MI. 2009. Rickard seizes images from Google's Street View program, downloads and re-purposes them to create "a kind of virtual exploration of the cultural geography of America's devastated inner cities ..." according to the exhibit's catalog notes.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>In his series "Transparent City," German photographer Michael Wolf documents Chicago's architecture and environmental context.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Simon Norfolk's "Fantasma en la Ciudad." Norfolk views the landscape "not as something primordial and innocent, but as inhabited, aculturated and, in many places, despoiled," according to exhibit notes.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF HERTER GALLERY<br/>Dave Jordano "demonstrates a lyrical understanding of the street, an intuitive feeling for its patina, and an eye for revealing detail," according to the exhibit catalog. Shown here: "Detroit Stump"
  • Table set for thanksgiving meal

Three people crossing a wide, nondescript urban street, where low brick buildings and weed-pocked sidewalks stretch toward the horizon. African militia members gathered against a backdrop of bizarre, pink-tinged hills. A patch of rolling desert scrub on the Arizona/Mexico border at night, brightly lit by surveillance lights.

These and other photographs are part of an exhibit, “Contested Territories,” that opened recently at the Herter Gallery at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It’s a big show in some ways — some of the images are over eight feet wide — and it’s aimed at looking at landscape photography in a different way.

Gallery director Trevor Richardson has selected images from a diverse group of modern photographers — American, British, Danish, Israeli — to consider how they draw on different influences, particularly fine art, to portray landscapes and the people within them.

“For a long time, landscape and documentary photography was supposed to give us a very factual description of an event or a particular scene,” Richardson said. “Newspapers and magazines, particularly photo journals like Life magazine, would use those to explain the world to readers ... the idea was that this was the best way to present objective, straightforward information.”

That method has often been used, he notes, to give us an understanding of how contested landscapes, like the Israeli-Palestinian borderlands, are memorialized and remembered. But more and more photographers believe there are limitations to that style, Richardson says, and that they may not in fact convey the real essence of a subject. Today, he notes, more photographers use greater subjectivity and artistic touches to illuminate what they see.

“It’s a different way of looking at social spaces,” he said.

The contested territories of the Herter exhibit range from well-known spots such as the Israeli-Palestinian borderlands to locales of post-industrial America, from crumbling urban neighborhoods to transient, generic landscapes that fill up with superstores and other types of suburban sprawl.

Detroit is the subject of two of the more striking photos in the exhibit. Douglas Rickard has been using Google’s Street View program to depict down-and-out neighborhoods in the outskirts of many U.S. cities in a series he calls “A New American Picture.” In the Herter exhibit, he zooms in on three young men in the Motor City crossing a wide, mostly empty street lined by low-rise commercial buildings and weedy sidewalks. They are the only people visible in the bleak scene.

David Jordano, another American photographer, has spent the last several years profiling people living in run-down neighborhoods in his native Detroit to show that life still goes on in the city. Yet his contribution to the Herter exhibit strikes a melancholy chord: “Stump” depicts the remnants of a dead tree, stripped of its foliage, standing along a street where parked cars but no people are visible, a mute symbol of a neighborhood that’s seen better days.

“Here Detroit is a city emptied of figures,” Richardson writes in an accompanying catalog to the exhibit. “While every detail points to evidence of human habitation, that presence is turned by Jordano into something surreal, strange and problematic.”

Clashing settlements

Other photographs examine the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestinian situation. An American couple, Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher, have photographed numerous landscapes over several years where the two groups have clashed, particularly former Palestinian settlements since taken over by the Israelis.

In “Ma’ale Adumim (pop. 34,329), Occupied Territories,” they provide a distant view of an Israeli West Bank settlement that, according to accompanying notes, was built in the late 1990s after Israel annexed the land and expelled 1,000 Palestinian bedouins. The settlement sits atop a desert ridge, looking down across a rugged brown-and-tan landscape of wadis, scrub brush and rock. The commanding view of the settlement speaks to what Richardson calls “an image not so much of desert landscape but rather a map demarcating social and political control.”

Simon Norfolk, of Great Britain, looks at a different contested area: the border region of Arizona and Mexico in the area around the Mexican town of Nogales. He’s done a series of photographs, all at night, that look at the U.S. effort to block undocumented workers, drug runners, or alleged terrorists with a huge border fence and other measures.

In the Herter exhibit, Norfolk’s “Fantasma en la Ciudad” does indeed produce an eerie, ghost-like image. Norfolk uses a long exposure on his camera, which makes the desert scrub in the foreground and the buildings in the background seem to pulse with light, a luminescence that’s disturbing and, perhaps, something of a metaphor for the growing eye of government surveillance.

In “Colonel Soleil’s Boys.” Irish-born photographer Richard Mosse examines the deadly fighting between independent militia forces, government troops and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has killed an estimated 5.5 million people since 1996.

Mosse, who has done a series of photos from the region, shows a group of young soldiers standing in a field, a low ridge behind them, under cloudy skies. But what’s most arresting is the strange fuchsia-tinged pink the terrain is bathed in, an other-worldly color that Mosse obtains through use of a infrared-passing filter, which allows infrared light to enter the camera but blocks most visible light spectrum.

Against that backdrop, the soldiers seem artificially imposed, as if they’ve been Photoshopped into the picture. As Richardson notes, “The color is so intense, so vivid, that it achieves a hyper-presence, a palpable existence in its own right and in effect becomes the subject of the image.”

Other images in the exhibit include the places in urban forests where gay men meet for nighttime trysts; hunters, seen at a distance in a farmer’s field; and a Chicago high-rise in which three men, in separate offices on three consecutive floors, are still at work late at night, isolated from each other and the outside world.

Richardson notes that in the digital age, photography’s traditional documentary role has also been somewhat usurped or compromised by ubiquitous video cameras and the Internet — but that such a change has in turn given photographers the opportunity to reimagine their work as a way “to convey ... more complex and sophisticated meanings, of both a social and personal sort.

“That’s why I believe an exhibition of this sort ... is relative and timely,” he said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Contested Territories” will be on display at the Herter Gallery through Dec. 4. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Legacy Comments0
There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment
You must be signed in to post a comment. Sign in here