Untitled, Alaskan pipeline at Atigun Pass, Brooks Range, AK, 2003, Chromogenic print, 39 x 55 inches
Victoria’s Sambunaris’s lecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) on February 7th would have been difficult to relate to without her accompanying prints. Her exhibition, Taxonomy of a Landscape, includes around forty prints total, along with ephemera from her travels across the country. Although her slideshow and stories of her adventures in Alaska and Mexico were intriguing and eye opening, the only way to truly experience what Victoria did is to witness her actual prints. Most of her pictures from this series are printed at 39 x 55 inches, displaying massive amounts of detail and natural color. Although the largeness of the prints might make you think “life-size” or more realistic, I found it hard to believe that these scenes actually existed in nature. In a way, I think that this is part of Victoria’s objective—to announce to her audience that these places are indeed real and that you can still go and see them (for now)! And in exploring these places through her photos or on our own, she is also asking that we step back more often and examine the landscapes and how they define us or how we have started to define them by building on top of them and excavating underneath. Needless to say that Victoria Sambunaris inspired me to travel more and sooner than later. (And also to get a credit card to pay for all of the photos that I thought I could never afford!)
There is a sense of euphoria when first leaving New York and hitting the road. After crossing the Mississippi River going west, everything slows down. The wheels begin to churn and the bottled up thoughts begin to flow. The inner turmoil that seemed enormous appears trivial. Wide vistas pass along the windshield and the mind becomes transfixed. Passing in and out of towns, the townsfolk are curious about the sole traveler. Fleeting encounters of whole lives lived are pondered while driving on.
This is the allure of life on the road as a traveling photographer.
The hardest part is leaving what is comfortable, meeting the unfamiliar, and getting out of the car to take a picture. The capture of a singular moment—as in these photographs—is addictive. It keeps a photographer coming back and moving on.
The two bodies of work here—one of places, the other of people—might well be manifestations of the traveling photographer. I chose photographs from the collection that I identified with: views that I might have seen, people that I might have met, but didn’t. I wish I had.
The places reflect the physical experience of traversing the road: the anonymous towns, the snaking roads, the distant trains, the incessant sky, the grandeur of the open landscape. The people comprise intimate moments and transitory views of lives lived in the worlds that make up who we are in this place, at this time: the enraptured dancer, the jumping cowboy, the painted lady, the fellow traveler, the countless glances.
Each moment in each photograph has its own tale to tell and represents someone’s world—to know, to remember, and, in this digital exhibition, to make your own.
The Living Room “I am a fetishist when it comes to objects,” Michael Reynolds says. “Every area is a shrine for me. I need things around me that hold energy and have history. Bone is very sacred to me—wood, stone, and bone. It’s very shamanic to me.” A photograph by Victoria Sambunaris from the Yancey Richardson Gallery hangs over the Tobia Scarpa couch, and a black leather Poul Kjaerholm chair from R 20th Century is against the wall. A nineteenth-century elephant skull on the floor in the corner is from the late antiques dealer Amy Perlin.
For more than a decade, Victoria Sambunaris (American, born 1964) has traversed the United States equipped with a five-by-seven wooden field camera and sheets of color negative film. Covering seemingly every road and freeway between the coasts and beyond, she has captured the vast American landscape and terrain, and its intersection with civilization. Sambunaris has said that she has “an unrelenting curiosity to understand the American landscape and our place in it.” While humans are in awe of the power of nature, we are also energetic and domineering diggers, builders, and settlers. Sambunaris’s photographs thus strikingly record our ongoing, uneasy relationship with the natural world.
Victoria Sambunaris:Taxonomy of a Landscape originated at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York and was organized by Christie Mazuera Davis, Program Director, Contemporary Art and Public Programs at the Lannan Foundation, and Albright-Knox Curator for the Collection Holly E. Hughes. The MoCP’s presentation and subsequent tour of Victoria Sambunaris:Taxonomy of a Landscape has been generously supported by the Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Join us February 7 (5-7pm) for a public reception celebrating this exhibition. The artist will be present at this event.