“I see climate change as the great, deep moral question of our time.”
“The idea behind a kaleidoscope is that it is a structure that’s filled with broken bits and pieces, and somehow if you can look through them, you still see something beautiful. And I feel we are all that way a little bit.”
“Activism tells you, Art shows you”
~Wing Young Huie, Forward to A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks
Take a moment to listen to William Bartram on Cane-breaks….
Bamboo: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson
Responsibility to Reflect…
As an artist I feel, as Nina Simone expressed, that I have a responsibility to reflect the times. Our times, as Starhawk put so eloquently, are defined by climate change. How much more can we humans modify the earth to our own selfish ends without damaging the very climate that allows us to exist on the earth?
What have we lost?
For a peek at what we have lost along the way in the Southeastern United States one only has to sit down with Travels by William Bartram. Perhaps not even that, perhaps we have only to read an excerpt from his work here and there. I compare and contrast my modern world, my modern thinking, my modern challenges, to those confronted by William Bartram 250 years ago on my blog, using my creative tools, the camera, the pen, and the computer.
For example, photographing bamboo in the Mobile delta that was “as thick as a man’s arm” perhaps was not quite enough. The canes which Bartram wrote about weren’t bamboo, they were native to the Southeast and I have never seen them. Illustrating his post then posed a special challenge, and I chose an invasive species from another continent to do so.
Bamboo: Possible Perception 6046 by Beth Thompson
The Design Question…
Yet with each post on my Bartram series I have chosen to go beyond simple words and photographs. I have created a Possible Perception out of a picture. Why? Is it a problem of design, not of photography? Or do I design photographs already by choosing what to photograph, when to open the shutter, where the focus falls, and what depth of field to use?
Bishop Park Pool House: by Beth Thompson
A broken bit of the whole…
Thus the whole of my work is a design problem. For me, the final kaleidoscopic piece at the end of each post is the crowning joy of the work. Its a broken piece of the the environment I originally photographed. Perhaps there was a person nearby, whose figure and face I chose not to include when I took my pictures. Perhaps there was a city rising about me when I chose to narrow my focus to a single blossoming tree in a park. The photographs I bring home are already broken bit of the whole.
A single viewpoint chosen…
River Cane in Cherokee, NC: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail: by Beth Thompson
A single image is chosen by me, a single viewpoint of the entirety of a photoshoot, a photoshoot that is itself merely a broken part of the whole. Then I cut a triangle from the image, making design choices as I do so, what to include, what to leave out.
River Cane Triangle: by Beth Thompson
An imaginary line between photography and art…
I take this single broken representation of the whole of the environment I experienced, and using repetition I mirror the triangle about itself. I encounter the design questions along the way, ending with the question of when and where to crop the final image. So are my Possible Perceptions photography, or do they cross an imaginary line between photography and art?
River Cane: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson
Reassembling the past?
In my Travels on the Bartram Trail, the very geography of the ecological systems Bartram observed have been broken up, disjointed, and now are only found in out-of-the-way, forgotten places, if at all. These places too have been forever altered by human activity. Thus my response to the landscapes I inhabit: I break apart one of my photographs and reassemble it. We may never be able to reassemble the Southeastern landscape as William Bartram perceived it, but perhaps neither would we want to. But we can take what’s left and let the broken bits become part of a greater whole, which, as Sara Bareilles points out, when the light shines through, it’s beautiful.
Winter Magnolia at Oconee Forest by Beth Thompson
Returning to the question of climate change, is our challenge as humanity not to design mindfully, consciously, our environment so that the Earth that gives us life is allowed to breath Herself? The very thing that has brought the climate change question to the forefront is our human activity on the face of the planet. So therefore is it not our duty and obligation to conserve the environment, the trees and ocean algae that put our oxygen into the air, the diversity of crops that put food on our tables, the exotic plants and everyday herbs that provide us with cures to disease? Climate changes beckon us to yet another design question, how to design the environment to sustain both human life and wildlife.
Winter Magnolia: Possible Perception Series by Beth Thompson
A big Thank You to portfolio reviewer & photographer Mike Smith for prompting me to look into the question of design in my work.
And a shout-out Thank You to the Do Good Fund for a month of great exhibits, lectures, and discussions, right here in Athens GA.