The Design Observer Group

Posted 02.03.10

Aaron Rothman

This Place is a Message

The two related groups of photographs presented here explore a common vision of the natural and built landscapes. Landscape has for a long time been the primary focus of my artwork. The landscape, whether more or less human-altered, for me is a place of presence — a perceptual field that anchors a sense of basic existence. I have never been interested in just showing particular places in a literal sense, but rather in creating images that, while retaining a direct connection to what was photographed, present their own experience of looking and perceiving.
When photographing the natural landscape, I avoid monumental and recognizable sites, choosing to photograph anonymous and relatively mundane locations, so that the landscape can be encountered freshly and so the experience of looking at the print allows for a process of discovery. The photographs are meant to create an immersive and experiential sense of place. Specific details emerge — fresh raindrops on a heap of rock, the blue shadows of a mountain forest, a certain quality of light — making for an immediate and palpable sense of reality. The photographs ask what can be known through direct perceptual experience — what does it mean to be in this place at this moment?

Looking at the built environment, I am interested in how we occupy the surface of the earth. These photographs explore the perception of space, the palpability of light, and the awareness of being in relation to time — both the immediate present and the geologic past and future. The “ruins in reverse,” that are the vast, anonymous warehouses and condominiums of the modern economy, have an openness — a sense of potential and also foreboding — that in certain ways mirrors the mixed sensations of beauty and fear instilled by the vast spaces of the American West. How do these places inhabit the landscape, and how does the landscape inhabit them? Can we, as individuals, relate to such spaces? Can we sense a connection to place, to the here-and-now, to our past, to our future?