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Earth and Sky: Photographs by Barbara Bosworth at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
i hadn’t heard of barbara bosworth, and googling her name didn’t come up with many results. i’m not big on nature photography, but decided to go and be enlightened. not just seeing a slideshow of the photographs to be exhibited, but to hear their stories directly from the artist made a huge difference. bosworth’s photographs of yellowstone national park, a meadow in the spring time, or an oregon forest became more than just landscape shots. she talked about lofty themes in her photographs: circle of life, impact of humans on the earth, sustainability, the wonder and capabilities of nature. i’ve always thought about the artist process, if when they are making their art, whether it be painting, photography or writing, do they have an awareness of the symbolic themes they are creating? sometimes symbolism is on purpose, but what about when to the artist, the sundown really is just a sun going down, and not the impending cycle or end of light and a life or lack of hope. so while it almost seemed ridiculous that bosworth speak of the symbolism of life and death in very blatant symbolic ways of a fallen tree, or a new flowering bud, perhaps it was the setting of the auditorium, and the grandness of the photographs, i didn’t mind the obviousness, and lack of mystery at all.
it was almost dreamy to just sit and listen as she described to take on projects of a meadow, or of the moving stars, or of people hunting. what made her art stand out from just a normal shot of a forest was her method in the creating and developing process. she uses multiple large-format negatives in a single print, which sometimes result in lines that chop up the image, but other times they are seamless. her photographs have a majestic, but also quiet, and dreamy quality to them, sometimes looking like paintings, or completely timeless. my favorite was her “National Champions” series – where she sought out the largest and most famous of trees. her “birding” series of people holding birds and releasing them is also beautiful. i’m glad i went, i walked out of the dark auditorium in kind of a haze of admiration and awe. as someone who is not a big outdoorsy person, this lecture and exhibit was a reminder of how grand and resplendent nature can be. i’m always struck by artists who create alternate realities that are magnificent and surreal b/c nature seems so common place, that i almost forget that the world outside my door is not ordinary, but amazing and awe-inspiring in itself already. the exhibit is up until November 11th.