My fascination with trees has followed me from childhood. Surrounded by woods, my daily life centered on exploring every nook and cranny of the forest, observing, attentive to its vicissitudes, its breath. I inhaled its stories and silence, order and great energy, flexibility and persistence. The power of these life-giving experiences instilled a deep reverence for the natural world and a profound love of trees.
These images are all from the shrub-steppe region of Eastern Washington. This landscape, unlike the lush forests of the West side for which the Evergreen State was nicknamed, may seem bleak and indistinctive, as nothing but an amber blur that streaks by from the highway. But the shrub-steppe is a rich, multilayered landscape, and it has a magnetic pull for me.
I spent nearly every summer here as a kid, visiting my Finnish grandparents who had come to Tieton from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, leaving behind a hardscrabble life in mining to farm thirteen acres of apples, the fruits of a better life.
During those years, vast tracts of shrub-steppe were cleared for cropland. No one thought of this once dominant landscape as a fragile ecosystem that had value in its natural state.
Today, the shrub-steppe is facing extinction. Only a small percentage of Washington’s historic shrub-steppe remains. The greatest loss is attributable to farmland development, reducing the vital habitat of many species that depend on the sagebrush environment.
I still go to Eastern Washington frequently. I go to find refuge in the arid silence, solace in the canyons, creeks, and rivers, flanked by folded hills that green up in spring like velvet cushions. I go because I love the scent of sage; the open plains and big, dramatic sky; the storied coulees of the Columbia Basin; the meadows of bunchgrasses, tiny wildflowers, and contorted anthropomorphic shrubs; the comical though noxious tumbleweeds; the Bighorn sheep, elk, cougars, coyotes and raptors who make their home there. I go to reconnect with this vanishing landscape.
Usually my photographic exploration of a landscape becomes more than the landscape itself. The images, seen metaphorically, reflect what is fundamental in my being. These images of the shrub-steppe are interwoven with thoughts of mortality, loss and renewal.
Places once active but no longer populated—ghost towns, abandoned buildings, empty structures, defunct playgrounds, and ancient sites—their ghostly ruins and what remains in various states of decay fascinate me.
However mundane and clichéd they are, I am completely taken with abandoned places. Old cemeteries, too. Entering an abandoned manufacturing plant, hospital, bunker, or old cemetery is like a journey into another world, a world defined by silence and absence. A reminder of the essential ephemerality of human existence. Yet, fragments of past lives persist in the structures. Whispers of untold stories charge the silence of the vacant space.
I love these contradictions and the creative tension they elicit. As liminal landscapes, ruins are suspended betwixt and between—between integrity and dissolution, substance and nothingness. It is this liminality that gives ruins their specific frisson.
Once abandoned, for whatever reason, the site is left to time and nature. Patterns of decay—rusted and mouldering forms, broken and weathered stone, peeling paint that reveals layers of history—are truly beautiful. But my lensless camera does not render such detail. Instead, my images explore the dark terrain of the haunting forms. They frame my inner landscape of ambiguous and contradictory emotions conjured by memory of the past and the sight of a world collapsed into rubble and decay, while simultaneously suggesting our own future in the absence.
This series of images, Waves of Steel, was made in a single day at Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. I was drawn to the contradictions between the billowing mass of steel and the lyrical flow of the space; its imposing presence and shimmering ethereality.
In this project, “Interior,” I created a series of images made within an empty gallery. My aim was to explore the simplified space, making light and the space itself the primary subject matter. I was curious how the white walls would reflect highlights and shadows, how light-shafts of the afternoon sun or subdued light on a foggy morning would articulate the space. The resulting images were compositions of pure abstraction. They became quiet metaphors for the way the outer eye serves the inner.