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2021 SPE Annual Conference: Imagining Legacy: Archives, Collections, and Memoria

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Beth Dow

SPE Member since 2018
Member Chapter: Midwest

In the Garden

These 16" x 18.5" platinum prints of formal gardens were made in England, where I lived for many years. While most people love gardens for their beauty, I'm seduced by something else entirely, and my favorite landscapes are overgrown, shaggy, and a bit off their game. Gardens attempt to control and dominate nature, but nature resists - it bolts, leans, withers, and isn't as malleable as we pretend. These places use the familiar conventions of centuries of garden making, yet their forms are still surprising. My photographs are not topographical descriptions, and color is irrelevant. Instead, I use the land before me as a jumping-off point, implying light and shadow as a way to create my own path through the garden. By guiding the viewer's eye through a picture, I feel that I too am a gardener in a sense.

I'm after that "slant of curious light" that is the genius of place. My photographs describe the territory between appearance and experience, and extend the moment when I first glimpse something extraordinary – that purely sensory flash before things make sense. They were shot quickly with a hand-held camera, yet are composed to emphasize the still, subtle hum and buzz of insects and rustling leaves. I use the warm tones of early landscape photography, and the richness of my platinum process complements the experiment in immortality that is a cultivated landscape.

This project was funded by fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board.

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