by Natasha Walter
The Frank Stone Gallery in Northeast’s designated arts district is hosting End of Land Sadness, an exhibit of David Bowman’s landscape photography. But this isn’t any ordinary landscape photography. Bowman captures both the hopeful beginnings and the bitter endings of what he dubs “the migratory landscape.” Commenting on his own journey, Bowman writes, “Since 2002 I have traveled repeatedly between Minnesota and California, searching for the poetry that resides in the constructed, modern landscape of the American West.”
Bowman’s Kerouac-style expedition was anchored in the presence of his
wife, baby and dog, who shared the cross-country ride in a rickety van. Despite
the sometimes comedic, sometimes dramatic interludes, there is, as with Kerouac,
much sincerity and substance to the portraits. All of Bowman’s pictures
were taken at dusk, when the sun was all but gone and the remaining light teetered
on the horizon.
shot took over an hour to set up because he was using a large-format camera,
the old-fashioned kind of camera where the photographer is required to sport
a hood over his head. Reflecting on this experience, Bowman remarks that each
of these shots took an entire evening of his life, accounting for the intimacy
in the work.
But the intimacy also comes from the camera itself. While a modern-day camera
corrects for the unnatural amount of brightness at the center of a picture,
the large-format camera does not, leaving an illuminated halo at the center
and drawing the viewer into the heart of the picture. “Church, Western
Minnesota, 2005” is literally a luminous example of this striking light
effect. An empty field layered with patches of snow and spring-suggesting dirt
foregrounds a lone house of worship. The small but imposing church is white,
emphasizing the halo of light emanating from its doors. The startling white
gradually succumbs to the electrifying blues that seep into a black navy. The
steeple rises to the sky as if in a gesture of supreme hope, though it is pointing
paradoxically into the darkening sky.
In addition to being a skilled and insightful photographer of natural beauty,
Bowman also artfully captures the aesthetic of the small town. “Paradise,”
a building so called because of its prominent pink sign, one that dominates
this drag of Main Street U.S.A., subtly features cutout ninjas on its façade.
What really steals the show, though, is the El Camino shining proudly in the
empty parking lot. Interestingly, this shot was never supposed to feature an
El Camino. The artist’s near perfect exposure, after long preparation,
was suddenly sabotaged by a teenage boy parking right in front of the camera!
But Bowman quickly recognized his good fortune and asked the kid if he could
include his unusual car in the picture. Coolly eager to let his car strike a
pose, the boy readily agreed.
Bowman’s stories and the pictures that embody them are captivating in
their simplicity. But due to the attention Bowman gives these “monuments
to migration,” they are also as serene and intense as the dusk light in
which they were captured. ||
End of Land Sadness runs through Aug. 14 at Frank
Stone Gallery, 1226 2nd St. NE, Mpls. 612-209-0844. Gallery hours are Sat.
& Sun. noon–5 p.m. and by appointment.