In his new exhibit, Professor of Photography Michael Kolster blends concepts of common infrastructure and the enormous powers of nature to provide a fascinating view of the ways in which geographically obscure communities adapt to the harsh environment around them. The exhibit, "Dwell," is on display at Icon Gallery on Mason Street.
Over a period of eight years, Kolster traveled between San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New Orleans, all cities where geographic boundaries force inhabitants to battle nature on a daily basis. Kolster honed in on these three metropolises because of their complicated relations with nature. One is poised on the brink of possible natural disaster, another is located in the harshest part of the continental United States, and a third has survived the wrath of the natural Earth.
Using a method called triptych, Kolster composed his photos of three separate pictures, often of the same landscape taken at different years. Stark lighting is a staple of Kolster's work, and the sharp details of the photographs highlight the discontinuity between the rundown, commercialized, suburban neighborhoods, and the centuries-old trees that shade their patched-up roofs.
Kolster also hints at urbanization without any full-blown cityscapes,. Using suburbia as an indication of the massive sprawl of modern cities. It one of his pieces, "Twin Peaks, San Francisco," a hazy sliver of the city can be seen amidst the deserted foothills and identical housing developments.
A particularly interesting piece, "Calico Basin, Red Rock Canyon," shows a paved parking lot that sits literally in the middle of the desert. The photograph presents the lot, which is clearly a place for ambitious hikers to park their cars, in a way that puts an ironic twist on the notion that in order to get back to nature, unnatural innovations, like concrete and pavement, must be established.
Kolster presents images of civilization conquering the elements and provides opposite images of places where nature has prevailed. Most of these shots come from New Orleans, and the haunting images bring back memories of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. One work in particular, entitled "Fleur de Lis Dr., Lakeview, New Orleans," depicts the back porch of a house almost entirely covered in savage undergrowth. This balance of development versus destruction makes for an interesting dynamic throughout the exhibit.
"These photographs describe relationships between elements in the landscape that are specific to a particular day, hour, and fraction of a second," said Kolster in his artist's statement that accompanies the exhibit. "Taking in the scene presented by the triptych is analogous to how each of us encounters a prospect."
The Icon Gallery is located at 14 Mason St. and is open weekdays and Saturday from 1-5 p.m. and Sundays from 2-4 p.m.