Subscribe to Blog via Email
“The Burn” is not really about fire, or even smoke. Photographer Jane Fulton Alt explained at the opening of her show at the Griffin Museum of Photography last week, ”Understanding the human condition, our universal need for connection and the inevitability of separation, has been the primary focus of my photographic life.” Alt spoke movingly about the meanings that are united for her in the eighteen square color photographs of the “The Burn”, a series she began in 2007.
During a photographic Ragdale Foundation Fellowship outside of Chicago, Alt witnessed her first controlled prairie burn. Deliberately set, these burns reduce invasive vegetation so that native plants can prosper. Not only was the burn visually powerful, but the idea of simultaneous destruction and renewal immediately resonated with Alt. The timing of this event also held personal significance; Alt’s first grandchild was born and her sister was diagnosed with cancer within a few days of the burn.
The elements of a burn – fire, smoke and ash – evoked the ambiguities of life and death for Alt. She felt impelled to photograph them, both as a creative expression and as a coping mechanism. The spiritual images of the burn are a manifestation of Alt’s desire to adopt a holistic world view: “These images constitute a universal metaphor, the moment when life and death are not contradictory but are perceived as a single process to be embraced as a whole.”
The photographs themselves are ethereal, evocative. The smoke shrouds and exposes the land surrounding it, billowing dramatically or lingering veil-like, as the silhouettes of plants, trees and grasses stand, fragile and tenacious, on the cusp of destruction. Alt’s photographs can feel at times ominous, sometimes suffocating, and at other times inexplicably meditative. Even the hues are complex and layered. Alt made all the photographs square to extend the “feeling of wholeness”.
The overall effect is penetrating, at once cerebral and sensual. “These images stand at the threshold of what is and what isn’t,” proffers Alt. “I realized I have no interest in direct representation, but rather in visual references to a place my mind cannot grasp.”
Alt’s visual poetry is on view in the Atelier Gallery at the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, MA through December 8, 2013. Her photographs are available for purchase, as is her just published hard cover book, “The Burn”, both available through the Griffin Museum.