My Own Wilderness

My Own Wilderness is a celebration of the fifth anniversary of PHOTO/arts Magazine, and a platform to connect with readers in a new way. In a sense, this was my emergence from the wilderness that is the day-to-day habitat of the soloist blogger.

Themes related to modern concepts of wilderness are familiar to readers of PHOTO/arts Magazine. New Topographics and the cultural landscape, environmental art, and traditional landscape photography are all recurring subjects. While developing the concept for this international competition, I was close to embarking on my fifth trip to the Boundary Waters area of northern Minnesota. This annual journey takes me into the wild and secluded pristine lake region along the Minnesota/Canadian border, and involves three thousand miles of driving alone in the car - itself a form of wilderness. I was doing a lot of thinking about the differences and similarities between wilderness of place versus wilderness as a state of mind. 

Martin Buday

The call for work was worded as follows...

Wilderness has many meanings in this shrinking world we live in. The traditional definition is 'an area of earth untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain'. Where there once were immense regions on the planet that could be defined in this way, today there are fewer and fewer untrammeled places. But wilderness can also be more than a physical place. It can be a state of mind, a condition of loneliness, an economic or political status. It can exist within the most populated cities as a personal space created by the individual. How do you define wilderness?

I was looking for answers to the ways in which photographers interpret and sort through their own personal experiences with both the physical and the theoretical forms of wilderness. How would these conceptions look as photographs?

The answers are beautiful and profound. Some are haunting and difficult, others full of whimsy and irony. Almost all of the artists touch upon aspects of the mental and emotional experience of wilderness, and quite a few explore the blurred boundary between fantasy and reality. The wilderness of reality versus the wilderness of our minds. The internal and the external. The past and the present. These are the unifying elements of the photographs being presented in this book. Ellen Jantzen defines wilderness as a place of the mind rather than a physical place. Intrigued with parallel universes, space/time warps and other manifestations of altered realities, Jantzen invites us to step through the looking glass into another dimension. 

Ellen Jantzen

Mark William Fernandes draws inspiration from the experience of his grandmother´s struggle with Alzheimer's disease, which led to a collapse of space and time. Manipulating the border between fiction and reality, Fernandes creates his own visual truth, away from a linear concept of space and time. In her artist statement, Alena Lobanova describes wilderness as ‘space without time exists where everyone and everything exists’.

We live on the ever expanding borders of wilderness, squeezing it into non existence. Wilderness has evolved for many of us into a place of nostalgic longing, and quite a few photographers use an element of nostalgia and memory in their work. Herve Demers’ work is from a series depicting the landscape of his youth, to which he is strongly connected and brings to him a sense of inner peace. Eamon Mac Mahon returns to the place of his childhood, growing up in small landlocked communities in Alberta, Canada surrounded by vast stretches of ‘forbidding and mysterious wilderness’.

Eamon Mac Mahon

We dream of being in the wilderness we long for. Or we replace our immediate surroundings with self-made metaphors for wilderness. Willson Cummer thinks of mountain trails when he is exploring urban parking garages. Denis Tarasov records images of wistful landscapes painted on the sides of industrial equipment within the barren desert of a bleak Russian factory. The series is called Dreams of an Oasis.  

Does wilderness coincide with vulnerability? Real and imagined dangers are presented to us in the work throughout this book.The harsh reality of children living in the wilderness of drugs and alcohol. Children living amid the squalor of a waste dump. A child seemingly lost in the woods. Nudity would certainly represent the highest form of human vulnerability to the outside world, and this theme is presented in a number of photographs. There is an unmistakable loneliness in so many of these images. Moving beyond the uncertainties and the vulnerability and loneliness, there is also quiet placidity in virtually every photograph.

Five photographers were awarded special recognition for their remarkable depictions of a personal wilderness experience. I took into consideration their artist statements, the images you see presented here, and the full set of photographs they submitted. Simply put, this is the work my eyes kept returning to again and again during the weeks of assembling this exhibit. Katerina Bodrunova presents us with a fantasy world of a reversed role of hunter and victim. The series is inspired by the contemplation of a vegetarian lifestyle, and her surreal images touch upon almost all of the unifying themes in the book. 

Katerina Bodrunova

Bernard Mindich explores big cities to go on what he calls 'urban safari' trips to find wild animals, and in particular, seeks ways in which these obsessively man made animals interact with unsuspecting humans. Agan Harahap uses images of live animals in anthropomorphic settings, effectively taming the wilderness while blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Andi Schreiber shows us an exploration of suburban American family life. We see a wild child literally climbing the walls of a cage, and another has just fired a shot from a gun. Both images leave me confused, disturbed, and amused all at once. Irina Popova documents a small child living in a world of drug addiction. Popova’s artist statement spoke of the intense struggle between recording the reality in front of her versus intervening on behalf of the child. Popova received intense criticism over this series and in a sense was placed into her own solitary world in defense of her work.

Irina Popova

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of the photographers who took the time to submit work to this exhibit. This was truly an international collaboration, as you will see by looking through the artist biographies in the back of the book. I have presented the book in an exhibition format, and it is meant to be viewed as if you were walking through a gallery. The photographs are displayed one to a page, in an order that I would choose for them to be seen on the walls. I think there is a lovely cohesion not only to the sequence of these images, but also to the body of work as a whole. Enjoy.

Christopher H. Paquette

Full preview of My Own Wilderness

Complete Exhibit on Youtube

Complete Exhibit on Vimeo

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