A View of One’s Own

Westport Art Center Highlights Contemporary Photography with Lofty Views

By Michelina Docimo

Alex MacLean,Tree Shadows (1990),Chromogenic print

Alex MacLean,Tree Shadows (1990),Chromogenic print

Have you ever seen a hummingbird fly—the way it flaps its wings so furiously around its tiny colorful body, as if creating a cloud of secrets? And then, as soon as it is spotted, it disappears, leaving you wondering if in fact you had just seen what you thought you saw. The experience of viewing Bird’s-Eye View, Westport Arts Center’s current exhibition, curated by Helen Klisser During, feels like a hummingbird hovering—clandestine, but alfresco. artes fine arts magazine

Once in the gallery space, and after briefly touring the exhibit, two cube-shaped benches in the center of the open gallery offer a spot to perch and observe the aerial landscape photographs and paintings that encircle me. Standing just a few feet back can give artwork—or any life situation for that matter—a totally new perspective. One can imagine hovering above the images, like a hummingbird sipping hibiscus nectar, its wings in perpetual motion, yet aerodynamically maintaining a position of absolute stillness. This is what an aerial view can do… it can move you physically, mentally, and emotionally through space in one moment; and then it can suspend you like that hummingbird, frozen in space as if in a dream—a summer dream.

Thomas Wede’s print, Beachwalkers, opens a window into this summery dream world with a frothy cloud, sand, and seascape scene. At

Thomas Wrede, Beachwalkers (2004) Lambda print mounted on aluminum

Thomas Wrede, Beachwalkers (2004) Lambda print mounted on aluminum

first look, the view feels monochromatic and lonely, even though composed of many shades of gray, blue, and beige. But on closer scrutiny, two tiny figures emerge clothed in winter coats, walking somberly along the shore, leaving footprints in the sand that will inevitably be washed away with the waves. The image makes me think of the Dakota Native American proverb, ‘We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.’ Where we walk, how we walk, with whom we walk, this is how our life will be measured—by the mark of our steps and whether they will endure through time, long after they have disappeared.

Other pieces in the show examine our perambulations across the land, too. Pilot and photographer, Alex MacLean, examines how the changing seasons and the course of the sun, and its influence on how and where we walk. In his Tree Shadows in Snow, Middlebury, VT (above), a straight line of pyramidal-shaped trees and their elongated shadows form a a row of compass-like arrows on the ground, pointing to footprints running a parallel line in the sun. Even though our paths beneath our feet can be hidden under snow, we come to rely on the guiding force of the sun above for direction; man becomes the connection between heaven and earth. MacLean’s second piece, Winnowed Hay Fields, Browns Corner, VT, shows ripples of green topographic lines created by crop rows. And snuggled in between these velvety waves is, in fact, a scanty brown log cabin tucked away in the corner and a hedge row with clusters of randomly placed trees. In direct opposition to the rules of order and direction seen in other works, this photo appears to throw caution to the wind and asks, ‘where do we plant our roots, where do we make our home, how did we get here?’

Massimo Vitali, Rosignano Donna Sola (2004) C-print

Massimo Vitali, Rosignano Donna Sola (2004) C-print

There are more footprints to follow in Massimo Vitali’s Rosignano Donna Sola. A heavily trafficked, vestigial sand line separates a woman sunbathing in one corner close to the water’s edge from sea bathers. The photo evokes a sense of serene summer and the luxury of frolicking a day away at the beach. The panorama is typically Italian—a country struggling with political and economic chaos for years, la dolce vita is an unshakable tradition. Even with unemployment rates surpassing 12%, everyone takes a vacation, regardless of employment or income status. To Italians, holiday is a necessity, their birthright, not a luxury. They go where there is no discrimination. They go where they can bare all. They go to the sea to be restored.

Olivo Barbieri’s Iguazu, Argentina / Brazil, brings us to yet another surreal edge. A serpentine platform carries busloads of curious tourists into the ‘Devil’s Throat,’ anxious to get a glimpse of these spectacular waterfalls and all the surrounding flora and fauna. With so many natural wonders becoming threatened and limited, we pay, often heavily, to step into falls, canyons, and valleys—to say that we have been there, to put a flag on the map, to reach our dreams, like a man on the moon.

This review originally appeared in ARTES Magazine. See more of the art featured in Bird’s Eye View here.

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