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Opening Night of Sawdust Mountain

Today’s post comes from Erin Gallagher, class of 2013 and Art Center Student Docent.

Elwha River Dam, Washington, 2008. Archival pigment print. ©Eirik Johnson, from the book Sawdust Mountain (Aperture, 2009).

Friday, September 7, was the opening of the exhibition, Eirik Johnson: Sawdust Mountain. The evening kicked off with a lecture, “Wanderings Along the Makeshift Landscape,” by the artist. As he took us through his early formative experiences with photography, sharing a tale of pilgrimage high in the Andes during his William J. Fulbright Grant in Peru, he began to draw out the source of his interest in places of transition and adaptation. Johnson recounted, in both image and words, the moment he recognized such disjointed combinations of tradition and advanced technology. He projected an image from his photographic series Snow Star entitled Ukukus that features men in ceremonial ukuku dress holding a largely lettered backpack that brandishes the label Quicksilver. Johnson said it was out of images like this that he began searching for other vestiges of appropriation.

His large-scale color photographs from Sawdust Mountain show his continued concern with adaptation, singling out instances of the “makeshift” where a natural environment is altered and marked by humankind. The series documents the Pacific Northwest’s tenuous relationship between industries reliant upon natural resources and the communities they support, detailing contrasting convergences such as a plummeting waterfall flanked by an equally domineering pipe. At first glance, what appears to be a natural phenomenon turns out to be a constructed dam—the sheer drop of the reinforced wall blending into the surrounding rock face in Below the Glines Canyon Dam on the Upper Elwha River, Washington. With photographs that highlight the juxtaposition of man and nature, Johnson gives us pause to consider a landscape marked with an uncertain future and to reevaluate our relationship with the land.

Born and raised in the Northwest, Johnson considers himself a native son, a hiker and a camper who could not stay away from his regional home. In other photographs from the series he captures images of locals—fishers, mill workers, or other individuals who rely on the diminishing natural resources to make a living. As he projected these photographs onto the wall of the lecture hall, Johnson was able to describe each personal history, name, and background of every individual he photographed. It was evident that he was not just interested in capturing light and angle, but a unique story that documents a specific time and place in a changing environment.

Following the lecture, the crowd was able to view Sawdust Mountain in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center where a reception and book signing by Eirik Johnson was held. The exhibition will be on view through December 9, 2012.

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