Caroline Allison’s current exhibit at Zeitgeist, A History of Snow, attempts to preserve our quickly changing landscape through photography and cyanotypes. Read our conversation with her about the new show below.
What inspired you to seek out snow covered landscapes for this body of work?
Landscape has always been a focus in my work. For roughly the past ten years, I have been at work on a specific type of image-making and mapping of our landscape. Photographs from A Common Place and Underground Again looked at the deep social and historical roots of various landscapes throughout the South. In these images, the photograph of landscape functioned as an index for a moment in our shared history.
In spending countless quiet hours in the landscape, I often returned to a thought I had as a child, that there is not one place on this wide earth that has not been touched or trodden upon or transformed by humankind. And what does it mean for us as a species to be in this moment where our landscape is changing and passing because of our actions. For this series, I was seeking landscapes that we know primordially: cave, ocean, forest, snow.
What made you want to experiment with cyanotypes and salt?
I had been thinking about the work of Anna Atkins, a 19th century photographer who collected and documented sea botanicals using the cyanotype process. She made one of the first books of photography, comprised of photograms, a camera-less type of image making. While doing a residency in Wisconsin last February, I was thinking a lot about specimens and documentation of life that is considered fragile or compromised. Making a cyanotype photogram of a snowball seemed like the logical thing to do. All of the images in this show were made as an act of preservation and documentation of a landscape in transition. Snow and salt seem to be in ever more dramatic states of flux. Salt, historically used as a preservative, was a material that made sense to experiment with.
Even though we don’t see any people in these images is the impact of man still present?
Absolutely. Though these spaces are photographed in a way that heightens the impact of the place, the landscapes are deliberately chosen as “in between” places. A reservoir that holds water for a town, a manicured forest abutting a farm, they are pockets of landscape where there’s a tension between things as they were and as they are now. Every square inch of this earth has been shaped by humankind, and the places that are not, are still under that purview because there has been a deliberate choice to leave them undisturbed.
Do you think artists have a duty to make the world a better place? Do you feel this responsibility?
I feel the weight of what we are leaving behind. My children are young, and I think about the heaviness of their unfolding relationship to the landscape and the earth, as we have entered this place of fully knowing the extent of our human impact. I want them to feel a relationship to the land, to trees, to make a connection with the world around them that is momentarily unencumbered by what they are being handed. Documenting the landscape as it is right now, I think about it as building an archive, and finding the beauty in its evanescence.