Laura McPhee: The River of No Return
A journey across geographic place, art historical precedents, and the very history of photographic image making find a dynamic relationship in The River of No Return, a series created by Laura McPhee over a multiyear residency in the Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho, supported by the Alturas Foundation. What at first glance appear to be bucolic scenes of a pristine world become on closer inspection images of a landscape that at every turn has felt and recorded the impact of human habitation. This insistent narrative of relational dynamics includes evidence of Native populations and European immigrants, ranchers and migrant workers, those who live off the land and those who use it for recreation, and species of mammals and fish both native and reintroduced.
As McPhee states about these images, “you feel the past and present in one place.” This view of time is imbedded in her lush, large-scale photographs, which are decidedly pre-digital, created using an antique Deardorff 8x10 camera and soon-to-vanish Kodak film and chemical processing. How we view and understand the content and meaning of these images, and negotiate the tension between the Romantic and the Documentary, will depend on where we start the journey of looking. Our personal experiences create the final and lasting dynamic of this exhibition—between the viewer and the artist. What we see, hear, feel, intuit, recall, and long for will be a highly personal journey. Enveloped by the sheer scale and beauty of these photographs, we become part of the history of a time and place that is very much our own, both familiar and mysterious.
Support for this exhibition was provided by Alturas Foundation, a family foundation dedicated to the visual arts and American culture.