Think of landscape photography and you usually imagine big, dramatic vistas: mountain ranges rolling past, the vast grasslands and acacia trees of the African savannah, the picturesque valleys of the Scottish Highlands.
But as a new photo exhibit at Forbes Library in Northampton shows, there’s a lot of beauty – and history – to be discovered in some of nature’s finest details.
The exhibition, at the Hosmer Gallery, features the work of photographers Rhea Banker of Shelburne Falls and Paul Hetzel of Springfield. Banker offers an artistic look at the Svalbard archipelago, a group of rocky, glacial islands just 500 miles from the North Pole, while Hetzel’s photos highlight the natural coloring and patterns of the rock formations – what he calls it “nature’s palette”.
Banker 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 North America. South. In an interview, she said her interest in photographing this terrain 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 rocks,” said Banker, whose photos have been exhibited in Scotland, Denmark, Greenland, the United States and elsewhere. “They really tell stories of 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 places fastest warming on the planet. Participants traveled around the islands in a specially equipped sailboat and also visited selected locations on land.
Banker’s photographs capture both the menacing majesty of this setting, where huge walls of striated rock slope down to the sea, and smaller details, such as colorful patterns of different rocks just below a shallow section of water. deep. She also found 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 retreating, but the seas are 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 the 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 feature impressive ranges of color and texture; some of them could pass for close-up photos of crystals.
The appeal of photographing these rock details, she says, is to document how rock is transformed over time by ice, water, heat, pressure and other natural forces.
Unfortunately, Banker adds, climate change has 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 also teaching, and she says warming temperatures are disrupting the lives of indigenous people there who have long relied on fishing, hunting and ice travel. 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 trails near Mount Everest in 1994. A member of the Pioneer Valley Photographic Artists, an informal group of seasoned photographers, he has traveled extensively over the past 2½ decades, in the United States and abroad, looking for 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 American West and Southwest – 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 that Hetzel discovered particularly vivid color gradients on a canyon wall.
He says it then occurred to him that “I should really go through my photos and pick out those pieces that speak to that amazing coloring you get. [on rock] weathering and erosion.
“Nature’s Palette” offers many views of this undulating coloring of western US spots 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 Sierra Mountains. But Hetzel notes that this type of weathering happens everywhere, and his exhibit includes photos from New Zealand, Iceland and western Massachusetts.
Particularly striking are images of the John Day Fossil Beds in north-central Oregon, a US national monument of badlands and deserts that contains well-preserved layers of fossil plants and mammals. Some of Hetzel’s images feature small, varied dark shapes against multicolored walls that appear to have been created by human hands – petroglyphs? — rather than by nature.
Another highlight is a section of marble wall in California’s King’s Canyon National Park, where dozens of multicolored banded marble lines zigzag across the picture. 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 dramatic, colorful abstract shapes.
Although he enjoys traveling for his photography, Hetzel says he knows some of these landscapes are under threat. During his trip to Greenland in 2017, he photographed the Northern Lights, crystal-clear icebergs, glaciers and miles of rugged shoreline. But, he said, “You wonder how much it’s going to change…I’m glad I got to see it when I did.”
The exhibit of Banker and Hetzel’s work is on view through January 30.