Think landscape photography and you usually imagine great spectacular vistas: mountain ranges in the distance, the vast meadows and acacia trees of the African savannah, the picturesque valleys of the Scottish Highlands.
But as a new photo exhibit in Northampton’s Forbes Library demonstrates, there’s a lot of beauty – and history – to be found in some of nature’s smallest details.
The exhibition, at the Hosmer Gallery, presents the work of photographers Rhea Banker and Paul Hetzel. Banker offers an artistic look at the Svalbard Archipelago, a group of rocky and glacial islands just 500 miles from the North Pole, while Hetzel’s photos highlight the coloring and natural patterns of the rock formations – what he calls it the “Palette of nature”.
Banker, who lives in Shelburne Falls, is also a book designer who has spent much of her photographic career exploring the northern lands – Scotland, the Outer Hebrides, Greenland – as well as Tierra del Fuego, the southern tip of South America. In an interview, she said her interest in photographing this land first developed during a trip to Scotland, which she says has some of the oldest rock formations on the planet.
“Much of the earth’s history is written in the rocks,” said Banker, whose photos have been on display in Scotland, Denmark, Greenland, the United States and other places. “They really tell stories from the past.”
In the fall of 2019, she was invited to participate in a residency program, The Arctic Circle, which brings together artists, scientists, educators and others to examine the Svalbard Archipelago, one of the most popular places. hottest on the planet. Participants toured the islands aboard a specially equipped sailboat and also visited selected locations on land.
Banker’s photographs capture both the awe-inspiring majesty of this setting, where huge ridged rock faces descend to the sea, and smaller details, such as colorful patterns of different rocks just under a section of water. a little deep. She also discovered new sections of rock that were revealed, perhaps for the first time in centuries, as the archipelago’s glaciers retreated due to climate change.
“What we were really trying to do there was testify,” Banker said. “Not only are the glaciers receding, but the sea is rising. “
At the same time, looking at some of these changes from an artistic perspective has its appeal. As she writes in the exhibition notes, “I became fascinated by the textures, colors and shapes that now become visible under the melting ice and snow. As glaciers recede, Earth reveals formations from Earth’s past and hints at its unknown future. “
Banker brings a certain abstraction to his photographs, which bear titles such as “Blomestrandbreen Landscape” and exhibit impressive ranges of colors and textures; some of them could pass for close-up photos of crystals.
The appeal of photographing these details of rock, she says, is documenting how rock is transformed over time by ice, water, heat, pressure, and other natural forces.
Unfortunately, Banker adds, climate change has now become one of those forces. She has lived and traveled in the western part of Greenland for several years, documenting small village life through her photographs and teaching, and she says warming temperatures are disrupting the lives of indigenous people who have long relied on fishing. , hunting and trips on the ice. on wooden sleds.
For his part, Paul Hetzel of Springfield notes in a statement about his part of the Hosmer exhibition: “Artists create vibrant paintings with the use of color pigments. Mother Nature creates equally vibrant colors and patterns secondary to minerals and pigments found in soil and rock.
Hetzel, a retired oncologist, took photography seriously after hiking the trails near Mount Everest in 1994. A member of the Pioneer Valley Photographic Artists, an informal group of senior photographers, he has traveled extensively over the past two years. decades and a half, both in the United States and abroad, in search of landscape photography opportunities.
Some of these trips were made with organizations that cater specifically to photographers, including one on which he traveled by boat to the east coast of Greenland, visiting Scoresby Sund (or Sound), the longest fjord system in the world. Others have been with friends, especially in places in the western and southwestern United States – Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon.
It was while visiting one of his favorite places in the West – Valley of Fire, a Nevada state park known for its spectacular red sandstone formations and ancient petroglyphs – a few years ago, Hetzel fell on particularly vivid color gradients on a canyon wall.
He then said it occurred to him that “I should really go through my photos and cut out those parts that talk about that amazing coloring you get. [on rock] inclement weather and erosion.
“Nature’s Palette” offers many views of this rippling coloring from spots in the western United States such as Valley of Fire; Capitol Reef National Park and Boulder Mountain, both in Utah; Badlands National Park in South Dakota; and the California coast and the Sierra Mountains. But Hetzel notes that this type of alteration occurs everywhere, and his exhibit includes photos from New Zealand, Iceland and western Massachusetts.
Particularly striking are some images of the John Day fossil deposits in north-central Oregon, an American national monument of badlands and desert that contain well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals. Some of Hetzel’s images feature various small dark shapes against multi-colored walls that appear to have been created by human hands – petroglyphs? – rather than by nature.
Another highlight is a section of marble wall in King’s Canyon National Park in California, where dozens of multi-colored, banded marble lines zigzag across the photo. And on a trip to Iceland last summer, Hetzel photographed fast flowing rivers which, full of glacial melt and silt – he calls them “braided rivers” – create spectacular and colorful abstract shapes.
As much as he likes to travel for his photographs, as much Hetzel says that he knows that some of these landscapes are threatened. During his trip to Greenland in 2017, he photographed the Northern Lights, crystalline icebergs, glaciers and miles of rugged shore. But, he said, “You wonder how much this is going to change… I’m glad I got to see it when I did. “
The exhibition of Banker and Hetzel’s work is on view until January 30.