Interview - Fall 2016
Lisa Wood by Genevieve Day
Q: Your work has been centered around nature and the landscape for the last 5 years. What inspires you about these themes?
The essence of its candid, unwavering existence, its timelessness, its harshness and beauty, its openness, its silence, its prominence within our memories.
Q: How do you decide where geographically to work with in each series?
I’m drawn to locations that present emptiness and reveal little in the way of the present or past. I am interested in examining an ordinary or extraordinary location, interpreting it in another way, highlighting memory and the impact of time.
Q. How do you think about memory and time?
Both time and memory are my most valuable possessions. As time accelerates year after year, memories become increasingly more important, more meaningful, bringing into view the unpredictable nature of it, which may seem the opposite of its essence. Time is predictable, but it's also not so, either moving too slow or too fast, rarely just right in today's world. The more I think about time and memory, I see their delicate dance alternately leading each other.
Q: This reminds me of a quote by Susan Sontag in “On Photography” in which she writes “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality...One can't possess reality, one can possess images--one can't possess the present but one can possess the past.” Photography is a medium based on the preservation of a single moment. Are you attempting to document a changing landscape by freezing it in time?
On the surface, this is what a photograph does as Susan Sontag explains, preserving a moment in time. However, what is the overriding sense in that moment, in that environment?
For instance, at the time I was creating A Minimalist View in The Palouse, I was thinking a lot about memories of a less sophisticated time. In response, I wanted to present the methodical, repetitive simplicity and fundamental silence found in farmed landscape.
With the Hydrogeographies project in Iceland, I was thinking about the idea that emptiness and wholeness are one and the same and that in nature, everything is connected and how this is particularly true with how we interact with our past, present and future. I was shooting from the air. I was apart from the landscape, not a part of it and felt this idea of emptiness and wholeness being one and the same.
In Greenlandic Ice, the natural environment is so overwhelming, so vast, so silent that the collision of timelessness - of infinity - and the present moment felt as impactful as a colossal iceberg crashing into the sea. I hoped to capture the sense of this moment as it became a memory.
In Oman for the Wahiba project, the landscape was so vastly monochromatic and repetitive but I found that form, color and structure, though consistent, offered real poetry and the opportunity to shoot it in a way that might create a new habit of perception. It's exactly in these moments that I sensed timelessness.
Q: What drew you to work with photography as a medium?
I discovered I loved photography during the summer of 1989 when I moved freely between West and East Germany with my first good camera. It was fascinating to observe, through the lens, the contrast between the two countries, one country split in two and separated by a wall. Above all else, I’m curious about in memory and time and timelessness. A photograph is a perfect medium in which to link us back to our past and memories.
Q: Your photographs border on abstraction. Are these the types of landscapes you are interested in or is this a formal decision?
I'm interested in landscapes that can be interpreted in unexpected ways, breaking and creating habits of perception, noticing the persistence of aesthetic and poetry, feeling the connection of the present with past and future...timelessness. Aaron Siskind, in seeing the abstract in the everyday environment, was the first to explore photography as an art form. He gave us a new avenue in which to see and to think. In looking inward, our comprehension and relationship with what is around us takes new direction and new meaning. When I look through the viewfinder noticing form, color, texture, scale, I have this opportunity to see something in an entirely different way.
Q: They have a way of blurring scale so one must closely observe whether this is a macro or micro view.
Yes, this is true in Hydrogeographies. Presenting an incomprehensible or completely unexpected view of landscape forces questions and reinforces the notion that there is so much more than meets the eye. William Blake points to this as he begins Auguries of Innocence with: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.”
Q: Do you shoot from the ground or from the air?
Both. Shooting from the air is incredible but there are so many factors that can affect the success of a project. For example, I will return to Greenland for another attempt to capture the Ice Cap from the air. It’s a difficult place to get to yet there was no chance to fly when I was there due to the weather.
Q: Tell me a bit about growing up in Pittsburgh and any influence it may have had on your work.
I grew up in Pittsburgh during the 70’s and 80’s. I distinctly remember how pollution smelled on summer mornings. My father’s career was with US Steel; we only drove American cars. Pittsburgh was a cohesive, melting pot of a population, toughened by hardship, united through work and pride. I identify with the American ideals of work, perseverance and strength through hardship that shaped my hometown. I’m not interested in the traditional sense of beauty in landscape. I prefer a more straight-forward, stripped down version and in this; I am connected to these traditional ideals.
It seems that this city eventually inspired the move West to Idaho and it’s natural environment.
Yes, I wanted to live in a place where the natural environment dictated the way of life. Idaho is the perfect place for this. These seasons are pronounced. There is so much open space and protected wilderness, second most in the lower 48. However, my Pittsburgh roots continue to define my values and my outlook.
Q: What contemporary photo based artists and non-photographers interest you?
Photo-based: Aaron Siskind, William Eggleston, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Nadav Kander. Other Artists: Richard Serra, Agnes Martin, James Turrell. Non-contemporary: Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keefe.
Q: What is emptiness? How does it exist in nature?
I think of emptiness and wholeness as one in the same. Emptiness can have negative implications but I think that in pure emptiness, there is peace. Nature is what exists apart from humanity; it exists with or without us. I’m interested in the fundamental emptiness that nature presents. In the emptiness, I sense time, memory and the present moment colliding within a context of connectedness, wholeness.
Q: How about scale of your work? You recently have moved into a much larger scale?
Presenting at this scale gives the work the sense of being an object which fits with my interest in producing very small editions of one or two at very large scale. Also, the landscapes I shoot are vast and open and employing a larger scale invites the viewer to almost enter the landscape as I did.
Q: Do you work on one series at a time? Or do you find that you discover additions to each series in new places?
Although, I have worked on one series at a time, there may be more I want to explore within a project and will return to those locations again.
Q:What project are you working on now?
Greenland's Ice Cap. I began this project in the summer of 2015. It was the coldest summer in forty years and the weather was poor for flying but perfect for shooting the ice fjord by boat. The ice cap is experiencing significant melting events, creating lakes and rivers where none existed before. I’ve completed the first part of the series and will head back to Greenland July of 2017 for another attempt to shoot the ice cap from the air.