Photographing Parklands

March 18th, 2012  |  Published in March 2012

The Green Building Gallery hosts “The Vision of a Generation: Photographs from The Parklands of Floyds Fork.” From the press release, the exhibition “documents the landscape before, during, and after the creation of the 4,000-acre Parklands of Floyds Fork” by its artists over the last four years. The art world, like elsewhere, is engaging the theme of green.

I wondered how the artists would encounter the problem of bracketing. By bracketing, I mean that the park is itself a framed, artificial work that (however) is designated and managed to remind us that it is not so (walking paths, tourism, removal of both diseased trees and problematic wildlife, and more). I thought of Monet’s paintings of Giverny; to what extent are the works of Monet a documentation of masterful landscaping versus his personal aesthetic? The park the size of the Floyds Fork location is no garden, but modifications and maintenance according to cultural notions of what a park should “look like” (the particular concern of an artist) are inevitable. How do the photographers negotiate their mimesis of a mimesis–their work an artifice of something already subtly artificial?

One strategy is to use close-ups. Through the close-up, any artifice of the surrounds disappears. For example, Bob Hower’s Legacy Oak offers a stunning view of sunlight radiating behind an old tree. The light enchants the forest (or rather, the forest is enchanted), reminding one of a place of druidic worship. It recalls antiquity, somehow here in America, and anywhere other than a park. (One may even think of a divine park, like sensuous conceptions of Eden.) The image, though, could be anywhere; there is nothing that denotes it as “The Parklands of Floyds Fork.” It doesn’t matter, of course; the artistry is self-sustaining. Louisvillians (and park visitors) witness something of universal appeal within their specific locale.

Another strategy appears in Ted Waltham’s Winter Forest Panorama–Turkey Run Forest. It reminds us of what snow does. Humanity’s hand disappears under its veil, resolving the aforementioned contradictions. The picture bracketing transforms the view of the landscape into an abstract composition and gives it a stark, “natural” beauty. We as viewers encounter the park, but park as such disappears under seasonal processes.

Of all the works on display, only John Nation’s Foggy Morning Fishing includes a person in its composition. It is a fisherman in a hazy, relaxing setting. It reveals what we want from a park–to escape other people and urban settings by some means other than television and internet web surfing. Was this absence of people the result of the photographers (who collectively took over 2,000 pics for the exhibition) or a choice of the curator? Yet, this particular iconic photo shows only the fisherman’s back. It makes his individuality non-invasive by lack of an encounter with his gaze. His gaze, if anything, looks out to where we look as well (and draws us to his focal point), which is the beauty of the scenery and the calm of the water. Outside of any aesthetic judgment of the work, it has a notable function in the framing of a view of ‘place.’ It states that here one may go, enjoy nature, and be anonymous.

The opening of the show on March 2nd was moved to later this month due to the untimely appearance of one of nature’s messiest creations, multiple tornadoes (which sadly devastated communities only 30 miles north of here). Hence I was unable to speak with the artists involved. I assume, charitably, that these photographs were not created for the exhibition (save, perhaps, a couple) but were taken by the artists via their love of the location before the project was invented. In this way we encounter the subtle–and perhaps most compelling–declaration of the exhibition: the Park has inspired, and will inspire, one’s creative imagination.

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