This article was published in the South American art magazine: Arte al Límite, Santiago de Chile, February 2011 issue. This is the English translation of the complete text from the original Spanish text by Elisa Fernandez, journalist and graduate in cultural management.
Landscapes of encounter
There are times when photography becomes a comforting space. There are minutes during which we seek to be transported to a new reality, or simply recover what was lost. There are instances where an image shows us the delight of being alive.
Elisa Fernandez, journalist
The way we perceive the world around us, its texture, impressions, colors and evocations, certainly are feelings that are turning into images with which we recreate our history. It is the experience of what we lived which ultimately defines us as human beings.
For Betsy Green (Pittsburgh, USA) photography has become a resource that allows her to draw from the essential core that makes up existence.
By building a sensitive and deeply emotional composition, the artist creates iconographies that transport us to magical scenarios, places that are almost theatrical and blend reality with fantasy, territories with notorious honesty, through which we can investigate her innovative sensory vision and art.
“My work in general is based on a reflection on the world as I perceive it. I reintroduce an echo of nineteenth century visual romanticism with this perception of reality in combination with my specific way of working. My work has strong references to the history of photography by my choice of cameras, artisan method of printing and subject matter. In the past twenty years, I have traveled and photographed extraordinary trees and exceptional landscapes”.
The extraordinary thing about her proposition is accentuated specifically by the way she intertwines the iconographic with the master paintings and traditional photographic techniques. It is startling to find instances where art can become the link with the origin, and remind us that what happened in the past is without a doubt a cardinal part of what constitutes the present. Collective memory is embedded and lives in the hidden landscapes of the mind.
“It was during my studies that I began using a special technique with alchemical solutions. I begin with a black and white image, bleach the silver out of the print and replace it with other metals. Every metal provides a specific color. It’s an old procedure, invented around the end of the nineteenth century, when people were exploring possible ways of producing color photography. Metals like gold, selenium, copper and titanium were used instead of silver. Iron goes blue, titanium yellow, copper red and selenium makes the photo brown”.
Like a curious alchemist, the artist experiments with multifaceted potions that can give life to a new picture. The wise voices from the past whisper the mysterious and captivating secrets of painting in her ear.
The rescue from death
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." The quotation of writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, gives us a chance to understand the importance of nature as a creative scene for this photographer.It is a sacred space that speaks to us of places that have survived death, and who have supported us throughout history. Photographs like Arbor Chinensis or Bamboo Sea show a remarkable position of Mother Earth as an element in which the human being recognizes himself.
“Nature became landscape long ago. Since the Romantic period landscape has furthermore been an aesthetic position through the conjoining opposites of the Sublime and Beauty. The Sublime always includes the element of danger, chaos. It reminds us that nature is larger than us and can’t be controlled. Beauty has the reference to order. Both Arbor Chinensis and Bamboo Sea are works that I made in China. Even though I was witness to a changing and dynamic modern China, I sought out the landscapes that I knew from Chinese paintings. Traditional Chinese landscape painting also emphasizes the ‘greatness’ of nature over man. In most paintings, man is dwarfed by nature and its forces”.
Each series is part of a small universe, and in each of these universes we can find an immensity of messages and visual stories. Betsy Green's proposition is in constant motion. It is the sum of experiences that create a comforting and private iconographic language, which can reach the disturbing look of one who seeks an emotional shelter in art.
“A new series usually is born out of a numinous experience. There are moments when I feel part of a bigger whole; the self melts away into the larger picture. I become one with the landscape. For instance, when I was photographing the Bamboo Sea I was on a bamboo-covered mountain where the wind blows through the canopy creating the sound like waves on a beach. At that moment I felt together with the Greater Whole. This experience is what I want to convey through my landscapes”.
The beauty of her images not only transcends because of their aesthetic composition, but also because of the content that resides in them. At first sight this conceptual support wanders between past and present, reality and dreams are no longer disparate elements in order to reinterpret themselves in one set of cultural creation. The work on display is treated as a multi-dimensional mirror, and the viewer is invited to enter this realm and embark on his own journey of transition. Finally, the beholder is also a participating entity and integral part of the images: they speak to each other. The photography --its light, shape, color and language-- comes to life when the individual is able to involve his own imagination in a dialogue with Green's work that goes beyond the iconographic.
Betsy Green's proposal is based primarily on the development of series, but these series do not have a point of expiration. They are eternal and the possibility of finding a new story to capture is always present.
“For me, it is always the next adventure to find an enigmatic tree in the far stretches on the globe. Or the continuation of the research into and interpretation of the Sublime versus Beauty debate. My work seeks to hold fast to the origins of photography and its materials. As the digital age and technological advances of photography threaten to drown out the dying craft, I feel even more strongly about my convictions to explore, teach and continue with photography as an art form”.
Copyright Betsy Green 2023