As artists in residence at the Harvard Forest, Jeremy and I investigated the different ways scientists "picture" the woods, from the graphs, to infrared images, to photographs documenting changes in the woods over time. I was particularly interested in the Lantern Slides that I found in the archive that document the impact of the 1938 Hurricane on the Harvard Forest. I wanted to know if these images would be spectacular photographs of the forests demise, or if the photographers, even in the face of such devastation, would be able to make images that were more objective records of how the forest had been changed by this event. What I found reached both ends of this spectrum.
The implications of this research today are that when much of the forest in Western Massachusetts is threatened by development, and responding to changes in the climate, how do artists and scientists "picture" that change? This could be visually dramatic changes, such the dynamiting and grading of hillsides to make flat spaces for new housing, or it could be less visible changes such as the presence of the Woolly Adelgid, which many not appear in a typical landscape photograph of the forest, but whose presence will ultimately, and just as dramatically, change the appearance of the woods.
Through conversations with the scientists at the Harvard Forest, this crisis of photography in capturing a changing landscape took on added significance. Photography, with the design of the camera based on the rules of Cartesian perspective and its ardent framing mechanicism, traditionally produces an image of the woods of as a space that is unified, complete and orderly. For this reason, traditional landscape photography gives the impression that there is an inherent order or balance in the forest, just as it is pictured. The challenge is to make a landscape photograph of a forest that not does picture a well-ordered, unchanging ecosystem. So that the question that forms in the mind of the viewer is not, how do we restore this ecosystem to look the ideal that is pictured, but what is the ideal? What relationships do different parts of this ecosystem have with each other? What exchanges are occurring between these different parts?