Florida doesn’t take a bad picture. This impossibly beautiful state with clear, confident light and varied landscapes that border on the cosmic is a photographers dream. But the field wasn’t always so crowded.
Mysterious, vital and dangerous, the Florida Everglades has been the most important ecosystem both environmentally and economically since the “River of Grass” was ceded to the federal government in 1821. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the Everglades were systematically depicted in photographs.
Norton Museum Curator Tim Wride was flying across the state and “remembered seeing the glittering lights of the shore and then being swallowed up in a vast expanse of blackness…this was my first understanding of the sheer scope of the Everglades.”
To delve into the photographic history of this blackness, he curated a new show “Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades” that were on view July 12, 2015, that presents a unique look at the pictures that have formed our understanding of one of the most contested and unique environments on the planet, as well as adding new views to this photographic legacy.
Wride gave a preview tour of the show that features early maps from the 1850s, vintage post cards that extolled the Glades virtues – sun, fun, fruit, alligators; and vices – machines draining the Glades, land being cleared. There are beautiful bird Audubon prints, and works by celebrated photographers Walker Evans, Marian Post Wolcott, Eliot Porter, James Balog and Clyde Butcher, who ventured into Florida’s wilderness over the years. National Geographic was the first magazine to publish photos of the Glades in the 1890s – curious crosses of fine art and photo-journalism.
The show features new work by five photographers the Norton Museum commissioned to add contemporary points of view to this visual history of the Everglades. The participating photographers produced various installations of light boxes with flaming fields of grass, wall collages, found objects – particularly a rusted machete and a boat hanging from the ceiling. Amsterdam-based Bert Teunissen took a sobering series of portraits of the people that live in the Glades, a decidedly non-glamorous place of fishing shacks, trailer parks and Seminole Indian casinos. It’s a whole new dialogue about a swampy area that is often overlooked by the beach oriented tourist trade.
More film fun ensues as the summer bears down, the Norton presents a series of Florida Films: A Sense of Place, in conjunction with the special exhibition. Each of the films is not only set in Florida, but incorporates the allure and quirkiness of this semi-tropical paradise into the story.
The series kicks off with the John Huston-directed, Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall-Edward G. Robinson classic, Key Largo, on Thursday March 26 during Art After Dark. The series then shifts to 2 p.m. matinees on Thursday afternoons including Edward Scissorhands, (1990), directed by Tim Burton; starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder on April 2; A Hole in the Head, Frank Capra’s 1959 comedy starring Frank Sinatra, Eddie Hodges, and Edward G. Robinson on April 9; and Body Heat, the 1981 neo-noir film which launched Kathleen Turner’s career on April 16. Sounds heavenly to sit in the air-conditioned dark and watch Florida films flicker on the big screen.
In downtown West Palm The Palm Beach Photographic Centre on Clematis is an undeniable gem, this non-profit organization founded in 1985, is a staggering 33,000 square feet and has programs for photography at all skill levels and a variety of interests. There is a large store with top tier cameras and gear, rooms for classes and a large exhibition space on the ground floor.
The current exhibit is a powerful series of images captured by female photographers who shoot for National Geographic, the decades old magazine with the yellow cover emerging as the common photo exhibit thread this month.
“For the last decade, some of our most powerful stories have been produced by a new generation of photojournalists who are women. These women are as different as the places and the subjects they have covered, but they all share the same passion and commitment to storytelling that has come to define National Geographic,” said Kathryn Keane, vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions. “The exhibition reaffirms the Society’s position as a respected leader in the field of photography.”
Featuring the work of 11 female photojournalists who have made a significant impact through their images, the work ranges from the savannahs of Botswana to the war torn streets of Libya and Afghanistan, the beaches of the Jersey Shore to the Mongolian Steppes and the rainforests of New Guinea. The show is called “Women of Vision”, a tribute to the spirit and the ambition of journalists who have created powerful experiences through strategic use of a camera.
Some of the best images in the show are by Erika Larsen, whose work uses photography, video and writing to learn intimately about cultures that maintain strong connections with nature. She has been working as a magazine photographer since 2000, specializing in human-interest stories and sensitive cultural issues.
In my favorite Larsen photo Destiny Buck, a Wanapum girl, and her horse are both dressed in full regalia. She performs in many rodeos, including the Happy Canyon Indian Pageant and Wild West Show, an event that has taken place annually in Oregon since 1913.
Larsen says “They’re very proud of the culture of the horse, their skills with the horse, their spiritual connection with the horse, their physical connection, what it meant for them in the past, and what it means for them today,” Larsen says. The Women of Vision exhibit runs through March 28th.
Now that Cuba is opening up, the Photographic Center is offering a special photography trip there with master photographer Vincent Versace to meet with Cuban historians, teachers, artists, musicians, and naturalists to experience this fast-changing island nation through their eyes. The tour guides shutterbugs cameras into the everyday life of schools, artists, musicians, ballet figures, sports figures, artisans, a cigar plantation, rum factory and much more. Contact the Center for dates and prices. Sounds like an adventurous way to play Anthony Bourdain.
Fem Photogs and Glades on Fire and other Reviews About Arts and Exhibitions Being Displayed in West Palm Beach this Week and in the coming Months.