On one side of the white wall sits a giant, glossy, black-and-white photograph of sand dunes, while on the other, a coterie of small, vibrantly-colored photos of rock formations and nature scenes hang in a row. These two exhibits, currently showing at the Touchstone Gallery until March 31, perfectly display the contrasting sides of nature, and how photography can lend to ideas and viewpoints so spectacular that they demand to be discovered. Both are equally striking, encapsulating nature’s greatness in dramatically different ways.
The series of large-scale black-and-white images of rock, sand, and ice formations is entitled Pattern + Texture II, by local photographer Pete McCutchen. McCutchen focuses on the patterns of different natural formations, making a photograph of lines in the sand look like an intricately painted abstract work of art. The shapes and shades seem almost unnatural, begging the question of how the world can create such organized splendor. The artist’s eye for these lines, and for the lighting that turns a desert ground into a million shades of gray, is impeccable.
Harvey Kupferberg’s collection of nature photography, called Daylights Reflections From Sunrise to Sunset, lies only a room away. Each of McCutchen’s photographs takes up nearly an entire wall, their majesty demanding attention from across the room. But in Kupferberg’s exhibit, the photographs’ comparatively small size make it so that the viewer must get intensely close to the work to see every detail.
These photographs showcase more of the grandeur of nature: an overview of a canyon at sunset, or a rushing river flowing between mossy rocks. They evoke the great landscape paintings of artists like Thomas Moran and other members of the Hudson River School. There is a majestical quality to them, especially with the array of colors that contrast with the grayscale of the photos from the previous exhibit.
Each exhibit intentionally utilizes color, or the absence of it, to portray this individual majesty. McCutchen goes for more abstract-yet-focused imagery, and while Kupferberg tries to encapsulate the splendor of the natural world as a sum.
Angles, edges, and reflections are the most crucial details of each artist’s pieces. The angles of a rock formation, the soft edge of clouds in the sky, the mirror of a mountain on the surface of a lake; these treasures on display in Kupferberg’s photos remind the viewer of the surreality of our world. Moreover, the patterns in McCutchen’s photos evoke a sort of surreality, too, but in the sense of someone recognizing a piece of nature without the larger context. It’s hard to even imagine the complexity of rock formations that take their beautiful shape over millions of years, and both photographers capture this miraculous reality in dichotomous ways.
The only doubt the photographs leave is how much creativity was required in the making of the Daylight Reflections exhibit. Though the landscape photography is beautiful to look at, it’s easy to wonder how truly artistic it is to take a picture of a river or a mountain range. Anyone with a camera can look at parkland, see its magnificence, and snap a similar photo. The splendor is in the nature itself, not necessarily the photography.
Yet there is certainly still a place for magnificent landscape photography, even if it is simplistic. There is boundless beauty in nature, and capturing at least a small part of that brings the viewer an inescapable feeling of joy.
The separate focus on the whole versus the part makes these two exhibits work so perfectly together, and the color contrasts further augment their cohesion. The Touchstone Gallery has done a wonderful job in pairing two works of nature photography that feel anything but repetitive. By highlighting the different intricacies and impossibilities of the natural world, these artists push forward the importance of our surroundings.