Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Photography exhibit explores nature

For the College’s students, environmental awareness is not a new topic. However, to actually see human destruction against the genuinely beautiful backdrop of nature is horrifying. The 2010 summer exhibition of Ansel Adams and Edmund Bertynsky’s  photography at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vt. evoked many shocked feelings from museum-goers.
The exhibit was showcased in Shelburne because of the efforts of Museum President Stephan Jost. The photographers have varying styles and the purpose of bringing the two artists’ work together was to juxtapose the diverse messages conveyed by landscape photography.
Adams’ photographs are black and white prints, and most were shot primarily in Yosemite National Park. Inspired by George Fiske’s work published in 1888, Adams spent the better part of his career at Yosemite. He called it “a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”
Bertynsky’s collection, on the other hand, is comprised of large and vivid colored canvasses. He initially found his vision during an “oil epiphany” he had in 1997, and he was fascinated by the idea that humans continue to live such comfortable lives despite the fact that they are often aware that “the world is suffering for [their] success.”
Adams’ photographs depict nature’s power and draw spectators into the picture. The photographs beckon to people, asking them to explore paths through snowy trees, or to follow a sparkling, leaf-strewn stream. Dramatic images of towering trees and cascading waterfalls hang on the wall next to his gentle images of dainty white flowers growing on the forest floor. Photos, such as “Water and Foam,” where Adams captures a unique spiral pattern floating on the surface of a puddle of water, illustrate the intense yet delicate details of nature. He shot in black and white because he believed that it put the beauty and rawness of the natural scenery just out of human reach.
Burtynsky’s work is more direct than Adams’. His photos make a clear and progressive statement about the human need to be environmentally aware. He views nature in the presence of mankind. Massive images of oilfields, refineries, cityscapes and car manufacturers pop with symmetry and intense hues of red, blue and burnt brown. Burtynsky lines the frame up in a way that makes the images seem boundless. It is no easy task to look at imposing machinery, rivers of murky oil, heaping piles of compressed garbage cubes and endless buildings without feeling guilt and shame. The photographer does not seek to evoke ashamed sentiments, but rather he wants to draw humans closer to their lifestyle.
Both artists show us nature in the most real sense. While Burtynsky’s photos are cruder than Adams’, both photographers seek to highlight both sides of the environment. Ultimately, Adams and Burtynskys’ photographs send similar messages, and each artist says that caring for the earth is vital, so humans can distance themselves from the devastating effects seen in Burtynsky’s pieces and progress to the beauty that Adams depicts.