Friday, October 5, 2007

Prairie State Landscapes

The busy State of Illinois building seems like an unlikely place for a museum, but “The Grammar of Landscape: 11 Photographic Visions in Illinois” offers a delightful respite from the bustling business district.

The exhibit, one of several shows preceding the Festival of Maps, presents images by 11 photographers with distinct perspectives. The exhibit brings together imagery of industrial landscapes, nature, and cityscapes in a cleanly executed presentation. The photographs offer, as the curator’s explanation says “the land around us in terms of building blocks.”

It is in fact the range of subject matter along with the stylistic variance of the photographs that make the exhibit a success. We see not only city, agriculture, prairie, forest and industry, but we see each of these elements from different visual perspectives.

Gary Kolb, famed nature photographer, offers black and white silver gelatin prints of Illinois forests. On the adjacent wall of this room of the exhibit are three
color photographs of Chicago industrial sites at nightfall by Michelle Keim.

Both Michael McGuire’s ink-jet panoramas and Bob Thall’s black and white digital prints expose the precise angles and structures that comprise Chicago’s urban environment. The surprising vivacity in McGuire’s parking garages is juxtaposed beautifully with the loneliness of Thall’s empty roads.

Jin Lee’s close-up, low depth of field, C-prints of prairie flowers augment the vastness of Art Sinsabaugh’s panoramas titled “Midwest Landscape.”

My favorite set of photographs in the exhibit are Bill Sosin’s inkjet prints. All of the pictures focus on raindrops on Sosin’s car windows. Different rain-related moments throughout the city comprise the blurry backgrounds. In addition to the images themselves, their particular room shows off the unique architecture of the Thompson Center. The room is striated with supporting beams, which generate dramatic lines of vision.

But the compelling photographs are just one element of the show. It is, after all, part of the Festival of Maps. Next to each set of photographs, the viewer will find a map showing exactly where in Illinois the photographs were taken.

“We’re so pleased to be part of the Festival of Maps,” said curator Judith Burson Lloyd Klauba. “[The maps] add another level to the pictures,” she continued. “They personalize the images.” Indeed, the maps allow the viewer to bring together the different elements of Illinois by linking a specific place with each image.

Both photographs and maps are methods of preservation and documentation. Photographs capture a moment in time, permanently recording history. Maps record the details and development of geography. Oftentimes we think of maps as a way of determining a route between point A and B, but this exhibit highlights how much more maps can be used for.

The Illinois State Museum aims to preserve Illinois history. What better way to do that than through the artistic documentation in the photographs and the technical documentation of cartography? The exhibit does a magnificent job of combining two important methods of preservation and documentation.

Written by Sarah Arkin

No comments: