Work Envisioned—Work Realized

I recently earned the privilege of showing a new body of work at the Harrington Gallery in Pleasanton’s Firehouse Arts Center. The work is not the traditional style of work exhibited in this space. By this, I simply mean, it’s not the type of work that sells and it takes a certain mindset to ‘get it.’ There’s also a reference that might be lost on the wrong audience. Regardless of the audience, the work has been selected and is currently on display. My hope—any artist’s hope—is that the work makes an impact and resonates with a few of the viewers.

This work has been incubating for many years. I first saw one of these Kodak Picture Spot signs on a road trip with my family to Arizona. I think we were somewhere near the Grand Canyon. I can now recall seing more of them throughout my career. They’ve since disappeared—unless of course you’re in Disneyland where the signs prevail (but that’s a whole other story).

This work has taken years to formalize and come to fruition. I started shooting the images on a road trip Thea and I took through many of the Western United States’ National Parks back in 2010. Now as I spot new sites, I add to the series, always carrying the Kodak sign in my car wherever I go.

Today, the work lives as I envisioned it before a single image was captured or the mock Kodak sign was made in my studio. The work shows as I imagined it, as a “failed taxidermic effort to frame the magnificence of the land, stuff it’s glory, and paste it in the family photo album trophy as a surrogate to the experience of standing witness to the grandeur of the scene.”

Work Statement

In the world’s wild places, a photograph shot is a failed taxidermic effort to frame the magnificence of the land, stuff it’s glory, and paste it in the family photo album trophy as a surrogate to the experience of standing witness to the grandeur of the scene. No detail, composition or tonal range can truly capture the beauty of a place. While they may arrest time and pin down a memory, every attempt falls short of the sights, sounds, smells and awe of being physically present.

The photographer’s insatiable eye is emblematic of our culture’s voracious appetite to consume the land.  The National Parks are a reaction against this hunger and their purchase and preservation is an attempt to protect it from the hunters, ourselves. These National Park picture spots are signs indicating where one should stand, aim and click the shutter release of his camera, creating a gestural predatorial posture over the expanse of the land that for the moment has eluded it’s would be captor.

This ongoing body of work shows the inability of the photographer to apprehend the full range of light and splendor before the lens. My struggle to portray the landscape is the artists struggle, and the human struggle to communicate the mystery of existence.

~ John Trefethen

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