Eleanor Harwood Gallery is thrilled to present Havasu Falls, new work from Bay Area photographer Terri Loewenthal. Havasu Falls is the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery and features eight large scale photographs of Havasu Falls created in the artist’s signature style— strikingly saturated kaleidoscopic images created on-location through optics she designed herself, which enable her to express the experience of being in wild places. Havasu Falls opens on September 11th and runs through October 30th with an opening event on September 11th from 5pm until 7pm. The artist will be present.
In late February of 2020, days before the Coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Terri Loewenthal, an emerging female voice in landscape photography, made the journey to Havasu Falls just downriver from the Grand Canyon within the Havasupai Nation. An astute observer of the West, Loewenthal traveled to remote native land to acknowledge the huge contrast between white America’s extractive mentality and the still-extant wildness with which the Havasupai people coexist. Shortly after, the Havasupai tribe closed the campground to visitors in order to keep a new outside virus at bay.
Disease, blood, beauty, conquest—the tale of the Great American West is storied and complicated and so is the history of its landscape photography. Alongside the dogged postcolonialist push of westward expansionism propelled by manifest destiny, early photographs of the American West helped to mythologize the land and incentivize its cultivation. Towering snow capped mountains and giant trees beckoned to adventurous settlers who were seeking to carve out a piece of the land for themselves.
In contrast to a straightforward representational photography, Terri Loewenthal has become recognized for an alternative feminist imaging of the American West. Her works are single exposures, composited in her camera while on site – collaged vantage points of the 360˚ landscape surrounding a singular location, each layer altered with swaths of saturated color. Her approach is painterly and rigorously sensate in her depictions of the landscape. The new works in Havasu Falls are lush and rich, invoking the misty air that bounces off the walls of the canyon, full of positive ions and texture. Her color choices feel like litmus tests, PH strips measuring the make-up of the place around her. Historically, landscape photography showed us pristine faraway places ripe for the taking. Loewenthal moves us towards an emotional experience – that we neither conquer nor confine nature, but instead nurture a complex and deep relationship with it.
Traditional imagery of Havasu Falls is saturated forest greens, icy blues and earthy terracotta reds—the green blue of the water slices through and sprays over the Arizona red rock, beckoning adventurous travelers to the banks of its lush oasis. Loewenthal’s Havasu Falls provides a marked alternative to the typical photographic treatment of the land. The famed aqua water becomes a secondary character to the imposing red rocks. Vantage points are mostly looking upwards, providing the sense of being deep within the walls of a canyon with only glimpses of sky. Tree branches and rock texture details dominate the foreground. Catching a sliver of waterfall in this series becomes an event, as exciting as coming upon water in the middle of a desert, a metaphor for how precious and finite Colorado River water has become. For Loewenthal, picturing wild spaces is a form of care and hopefully, conservation. She states:
Staying present with our surroundings in times of vast environmental degradation requires taking care of wild spaces, in ways that go beyond conventional conservation. It requires intimacy, the building of genuine relationship. The saturated compositions I create with my custom optics allow me to offer an expression of relationship with land that is alive, exuberant, and thriving with coexistence. It’s my attempt to indicate the spirit of a place, to offer the love and respect that all beings need to a waterfall. The reverence and play connect me backwards and forwards in time– to the impulse we respond to when we visit the ocean to scatter ashes of a loved one, or get married in a grove of ancient trees, or blow a dandelion for the sheer joy of watching the seeds float away.