Hallucinogenic Photos of the California Wilderness

Ellyn Kail, Feature Shoot, April 17, 2018

Terri Loewenthal keeps her methods closely-guarded, but she is willing to admit a few things about her chimerical photographs of California. First, they are all made in camera with filters. Second, they are single exposures. Third, they were made when she was physically in wild landscapes, not in a studio, removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Up becomes down; earth erupts into color; the horizon extends forever.

Drawing on the history of landscape photography, Loewenthal calls on the ghosts of Watkins, Adams, and Cunningham, while nodding at the same time to the art and activism of 1960s California. Still, Loewenthal plants her Psychscapes firmly in the present day. The work is in part a response to the current administration and threats against the protection of California’s most precious sanctuaries. The Federal Bureau of Land Management, for instance, encouraged by an executive order from President Donald Trump, might go back on the The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and allow development on parks throughout the state. While Loewenthal’s feral scenes are meditative and ethereal, they’re also radical and subversive. Within these hallucinations, we find moments of truth and rebellion, a cri de coeur of behalf of the primordial places we too often take for granted.

Psych comes from Greek word psykhe, meaning breathe or soul. “Scape” comes from the Old English sciepe, meaning condition or quality. Psychscapes, then, record the shapes, forms, and contours of the soul. Without the rugged, wild terrain in Loewenthal’s photographs, we lose our ways of defining ourselves and of mapping who we are. The artist knows this space all the way down to her bones–she camped here for weeks in order to make the photographs–but ultimately, her fable is a universal one. We need not have ever set foot on these trails or inhaled this air to read these images. Loewenthal quietly lights the way, taking us from firm ground and deeper still into an abyss of our own consciousness.