Artwork > Light into Shadow

The mythical forests of Early American literature, from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter to Thoreau's Walden,have not entirely disappeared, some are retained for their picturesque qualities or as escapes from everyday urban life. But the forest is ultimately kept at a distance, pushed further and further back, until the woods are just a thin strip between subdivisions: a scenic backdrop, not wilderness. The brighter images in this series were taken at the edge of the forest, a border that changes monthly as new developments spring up in the ex-urbs of Boston. Once the larger trees have been taken down, the summer sun has a corrosive effect on plants and saplings that once thrived in the shade of tall trees.

Darkness, on the other hand, indicates a thriving forest with a flush canopy, even though this darkness is, in part, one reason we want to keep the woods at a "safe distance." The darker images in this series are taken from deep inside the woods, completely surrounded by trees. Darkness in Early American tales about the wilderness of Massachusetts represents all that is unknown about the woods: that which the light of reason did not yet shine upon.

Artists and scientists alike use the tools of observation from photography to data analysis to reveal the order hidden in nature. Only through objectivity, by removing one's own expectations about how nature worked, can the truth be uncovered, the veil lifted. Even one's own sensory perceptions can be deceiving: lumen, the light of perception, can mask the truth, so the smells, textures and colors of the world had to be analyzed using lux, the bright light of rational thought.

Centuries after these two terms emerged the German philosopher Heidegger argued that actually lumen and lux are preceded by another "light" called lichtung which translates literally to "light in a forest clearing." Heidegger observes there is no light in a forest without an opening in the trees; Lichtung is a metaphor for the fundamental openness to the world that precedes experience and also the rational conclusions we draw based on our experience. Heidegger argues that we experience the world around us first before "illumination", or, in other words, before we pass judgment on what we are encountering.

These images are an attempt to describe the experience of being in the woods, not only its appearance. The limits of the camera's ability to capture the woods in either deep darkness or brilliant light reflects on the limits of our understanding of the woods: what remains to be discovered about how the forest works and what we do not yet know about how the world will be impacted by the eventual destruction of those forests.

Project Description:
Out of the Light and Into the Shadows