Deep Looking: Cultural Landscapes in Photography and Film
from St. Lawrence University's Permanent Collection
and Gary Braasch, Edward Burtynsky, and Margot Anne Kelley
August 18 - October 6, 2010
Alen MacWeeney, Wicklow Trees, County Wicklow, Ireland,
1965-66, gelatin silver print, SLU 82.26.1
Digital surrogates of photographic works are now commonplace on the Web, offering instantaneous access to images whose disembodied presence often tells us little about the origin of the photographs themselves, much less their meanings.
In the late 1960s, NASA photographs of Earth from space radically changed our conceptions of the planet, which in turn fostered a modern environmental movement. So, too, the photographs in Deep Looking offer the opportunity to challenge our perceptions of the environment and propel shifts in local, regional and global consciousness. At this point in history, it could be said that the whole planet is culturally altered, with global warming affecting glaciers, land, and seas. "Natural areas" vs. "cultural landscapes" are no longer neatly defined.
Many photographs and films from the 1930s through present day reveal common concerns with ecological crises and the consequences of long-term cultural land use. Works by three contemporary environmental photographers—Gary Braasch, Edward Burtynsky, and Margot Anne Kelley—were selected to create a dialogue with images by well-known photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, and Paul Strand.
- Anne Cuyler Salsich
This exhibition grew out of a pilot project to digitize photographs from St. Lawrence University's Permanent Collection, in which Anne Cuyler Salsich provided cataloging and the creation of "metadata" in relation to images. Cultural landscapes is an authority term she applied to many of the images under review and which formed the exhibition's conceptual foundation. Alen MacWeeney's Wicklow Trees, pictured on the front of the card, came to symbolize the importance of deep looking in order to assign subject and description terms. Deep looking also refers to deep ecology, a philosophical platform that critiques the human relationship with nature and provides a framework for aesthetic and cultural interpretation.
Research reveals that much of County Wicklow, Ireland, has suffered from centuries of industrial peat extraction, mining, and grazing. By the mid-1960s, a movement to rescue the area resulted in the establishment of the Wicklow Mountains National Park to conserve the environment and its biodiversity. MacWeeney, a native of Ireland, captures the delicate beauty of silhouetted trees, and knowing the cultural history of the region provides an enhanced understanding of the photograph.
Margot Anne Kelley, Picea (Spruce), 2006,
courtesy of the artist
In addition, this exhibition examines concepts of 21st-century visual and media literacies in teaching and learning. How do we understand images often devoid of context and become versatile and fluent in seeing? Does it matter whether we view original works of art in a university gallery or via digital displays on 30-inch LCD monitors and mobile devices? And how do we determine and gauge these visual skills and literacies?
Artists represented in the exhibition
Curator Anne Cuyler Salsich holds master's degrees in Public History from UC Santa Barbara and in Library and Information Science from Kent State University. Her article, “Collaboration: Paradigm of the Digital Cultural Content Environment," appeared in the Journal of Archival Organization in 2007. She is currently the assistant archivist at Oberlin College.