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Would you welcome a tranquil and contemplative state of mind right now? How about spending some winter months on the deserted Isles of Shoals, seven miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire? Don’t worry, photographer Alexandra de Steiguer has done this for us and offers stunning B&W photographs that draw us into the quietude and turbulence of the natural world in her solo exhibit, A Debt To Nature Due, on view at Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street through March 19, 2017.
My fascination with de Steiguer’s glorious photographs is the contrasts she captures and implies: the wild changes in weather embedded in nature’s relentless rhythms, the swirling barrages of sea and atmosphere on craggy rock ledges and grassy knolls, the way the moods of the sea and sky invert themselves as storms come up and pull away. Serene or tempestuous, every image contains the tacit acknowledgement that the sea is both a beneficent giver and ruthless taker of life. In elucidating nature’s beauty and brutality, de Steiguer reverently meditates on our own transience and endurance.
De Steiguer engages with nature and photography in one mellifluous process. She waits. She watches. She lugs around a big, clunky view camera and captures her scenes on B&W film, which she develops and prints herself in a traditional wet darkroom. De Steiguer’s negatives are large, but her prints tend to be small, inviting intimate engagement. That has changed somewhat in this exhibit of photographs, largely taken over the last three years, with some prints as large as 16” x 20” – still small by today’s standards. Her larger prints capitalize on the crisp resolution and full tonal range of her negatives, brilliantly expressing the many dynamic contrasts in her imagery.
De Steiguer’s large negatives ensure high resolution of details, sensitizing the viewer to subtle elements in cloud formations, individual blades of grass and tangles of tree branches, to spits of ocean spray and quietly eddying tide pools. But de Steiguer’s use of film also imbues a feeling of distance within a scene by recording the presence of atmosphere, an evocative characteristic ellusive to high definition digital imagery. De Steiguer’s viewpoint further inspires awe through compositions that include a detailed foreground, an established middle ground and an expansive horizon line, creating a marvel at once encompassing and vast.
Sometimes de Steiguer turns her lens to close-ups of rocks, water, trees or wildlife. Less often, she includes evidence of human habitation. These studies seem to distinctly allude to mortality, as in the poignantly broken bird who found his final resting place along the wall of a graveyard or the etched rock face that evokes a crashing wave, lucidly describing its eons of encounters with the sea. In her decades-long ritual of photographing the bleak and stormy winter months on the Isles of Shoals, de Steiguer has described the grandeur and pathos of life itself.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: http://www.puckergallery.com/artists/de%20Steiguer/de%20Steiguer_exhibit.html
Feature Image: ”Babb’s Rock, Appledore Island, 2015” (detail) by Alexandra de Steiguer (courtesy of Pucker Gallery, Boston).