The Blacks Run Project - Large Format Works

Blacks Run is a small stream that has its beginnings in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  It runs only a short distance before colliding with Cooks Creek, then quickly joining the North River, and eventually flowing out to sea.  It is also one of the most polluted waterways in Virginia and runs, coincidentally, mere feet from my studio. 

 

I began this project with an obsessive need to document, collect, study, and understand this neglected and abused waterway.  Much like the medium of photography, I am steeped in a tradition of science and document, my first degree being in Biology.  Furthermore, my proximity to the stream has created a kind of kinship with something, and what I feel close to, I must understand. 

 

The nature of a photograph is one that creates distance between the viewer and the subject being viewed. The photogram is a reintroduction of the object my artistic practice.  It requires that the object be handled by the photographer, and that the object touch the paper that will eventually be a finished photograph.  Cyanotypes are unique to photography in that they require only water to both fix and develop the image, allowing me to work on the banks of the stream instead of the darkroom.  This process increased the idea of the object by the smears of dirt picked up on the riverbank, and the traces of water that remained behind, embedded in the paper. 

 

My large format works speak to the idea of object, and to the ideas of the landscape as something to be conquered and used that came out of the imagery and exploration of the early American west, images that were captured with large format cameras.  By soaking my negatives in water from the polluted stream, I allow the stream to have its own action on the negatives, rather than simply being acted upon by the photographic gaze.  These destroyed negatives, their emulsion eaten away by the water, also serves as a way to document pollution that moves away from numbers and statistics and into a more visceral way of knowing.

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© 2023 by JACK SMITH PHOTOGRAPHY

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