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Fractured: Mini Interviews | Jennifer Steensma Hoag, David Paul Bayles, Peter Essick

photo-eye Gallery Fractured: Mini Interviews Jennifer Steensma Hoag, David Paul Bayles, Peter Essick Welcome back! This week we talk to artists Jennifer Steensma Hoag, David Paul Bayles, and Peter Essick. In their distinct approach to photography, their work comments on our connection to the natural world and how our perceived separateness from the natural environment is socially constructed.

Exhibition view of Fractured

Welcome back! This week we talk to artists Jennifer Steensma Hoag, David Paul Bayles, and Peter Essick. In their distinct approach to photography, their work comments on our connection to the natural world and how our perceived separateness from the natural environment is socially constructed.

Jennifer Steensma Hoag’s exceptional photographs illustrate a perspective of nature that is oppositional—humans as manipulating and ruling nature, not as part of it. The white figure in the Hazmat suit is isolated from his environment, removed from that which constitutes humanity as a species, limited by the plasticity of human behavior and culture.

David Paul Bayles stunning black-and-white photographs of grafted walnut trees stand as metaphors for a landscape historically fractured by social inequality. His work documents how the natural landscape is able to tell a human story of difference and pain. Yet, the trees in David’s photographs give us hope by presenting a vision of growth and rebirth after the winter of a sad history.

Peter Essick’s “Construction Site, Tucker, Georgia” is a remarkable drone-captured image. The removed composition creates a rhythmic surface that reminds us of an Abstract Expressionist painting—the elevated one-point perspective reduces the waste material below to flat vibrant fields of color, and transforms the construction elements on site, into beautiful abstract lines. His work reminds us of the bigger picture, how we are inseparable from our environment and live in a symbiotic relationship with all of life.



Jennifer Steensma Hoag, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 17 x 22 inches, edition of 10, framed, $1100

What is your process like?
The initial process of my work is conceptual and research based. After I feel the idea for the work has solidified, I’ll begin gathering equipment and working on logistics. I’m a planner by nature and I enjoy research, so I think I naturally gravitate to this way of working. Once I’m on site, I am very focused. Other than the technical aspects of shooting, I work extremely intuitively and like to explore my subject by trying different possibilities that come to mind. I think this probably came from my background shooting film; not knowing exactly how the photo would turn out made me want to give myself a lot of choices. Often the images I ultimately select will not be my first photographs and it is through the process of exploring the subject within the constraints of my idea that I find my best work. Even shooting digitally, as in this body of work, as I’m photographing, I’m not entirely sure which photograph I will ultimately select. After shooting, editing down the photographs and optimizing the files is an important part of the process because I think photography is a beautiful medium and the crafting of a gorgeous finished print is important to me.

What inspired these images?
I saw an exhibit titled "Late Harvest" at The Nevada Museum of Art while I was attending their Art + Environment Conference. The show featured historical wildlife paintings juxtaposed with contemporary artists who made their work with taxidermy. I was entirely captivated by the exhibit and cannot tell you how often I visited the show during the conference. It was the inspiration I was looking for as I moved from my last body of work, Compromised Beauty, to a new series of photographs. At that point I began researching taxidermy and found Rachel Poliquin’s book, The Breathless Zoo. A fascinating historical and poetic account of the process and meaning of taxidermy, Poliquin’s eloquent writing helped to solidified my concepts and increase my excitement about this idea. Utilizing a Hazmat suit was a continuation of my previous photographic series in which I photographed a figure in a bright yellow Hazmat suit in beautiful landscapes. Our connection to the natural world has been a consistent thread in my work for over twenty years. From large color photographs of ambiguous land use to digitally manipulated photographic fictions of deer in urban and suburban environments, my work has addressed the relationship of humans with the land and its inhabitants.

Jennifer Steensma Hoag, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 17 x 22 inches, edition of 10, framed, $1100

Can you share an interesting story about your subject matter?
What is not apparent is that the model in the photographs is my husband. An art collector and gallerist, he is my artistic accomplice and trusted critic. We have a similar aesthetic and appreciation for art. I love it that he is excited about my work and offers suggestions while on site. While shooting, he claims I get really intense and tend to bark out orders. I think it’s ironic that he has always been willing to model for me, but as a landscape photographer I never took him up on it. Now that I’ve been working in a directorial way, he is modeling for me but is nearly anonymous in his suit.

Hoag earned her MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York (1992), and is currently an assistant professor at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her solo exhibitions include Interpreting Mary at Campos Photography Center, Rochester and Terra Incognita at both the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Adams Hall Gallery at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. Her work has also been exhibited at such places as Flatfile Photography Gallery, Chicago; Paint Creek Center for the Arts, Rochester, Michigan; Gallery Arcadia, Grand Rapids, Michigan; and the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Wendover, Utah.

What inspired these images?
My wife and I were in northern California awaiting the birth of our grandson. He was having kidney troubles in utero so there were issues and concerns for all of us. We were staying on a piece of property along the Sacramento river that my son-in-law is working on.  It will become an artist retreat space. It has two barns, one for art making and gallery space and the other has been converted to a residence. Lea and I were staying in what they call the orchard house. It was originally used to house migrant farm workers. It was built by combining four huge wooden crates 8’x 8’x 12’ that were obtained at auction right after WWII. The huge crates were used by the military to airdrop supplies during the war. Gabe is converting the orchard house into a somewhat traditional Japanese Tea House that the owners of the land will stay in when they visit.

The property is surrounded by orchards. I had been looking at these grafted walnut trees and thinking of the migrant farm workers and how for so long white people have disproportionately benefited from the labors of people with darker skin. It hurt to be in this place of beauty and tranquility which also bore the evidence of many years of pain and inequality.

Early in the morning on the day my grandson Arlo was born, I was in the orchard house reading a review of Peggy Wallace Kennedy’s memoir, Broken Road. Kennedy is the daughter of George Wallace.
Her life has been a long effort toward reckoning with her family’s racist past. When her sons were born she was determined to help them live with love and respect for all people.  On the 50th anniversary of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, Kennedy walked across the bridge with Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They held hands as a symbol of strength, unity, and commitment toward a better future for all people.

An image of their black and white clasped hands was in my mind when I walked to the window and looked out into the orchard. Until then I had seen the grafted trees, dark at the trunk and light where the trees begin to branch out, solely as a metaphor for how light-skinned people had so often reaped the fruit of the labor of dark-skinned people.

Thirty years ago the Black Walnut rootstock was grafted with the white-barked English Walnut scion. The outer layer of bark still bears the historical record of that forced union, while the inner tissues of the trees took a mere eight weeks to fuse together, sending moisture from the roots to the leaves and photosynthesized sugars from the leaves to the roots. Seven years later, and every year since, the trees have borne fruit.

With the image of Kennedy’s and King’s black and white clasped hands, I walked into the orchard choosing to also see hope.

Can you share an interesting story about your subject matter?
Projects usually evolve slowly for me, so this was very different. The inspired moment hit. The light was perfect and I walked out and made 10 successful images. In the days following I researched grafting walnut trees and species types.

Photographer David Paul Bayles focuses on landscapes where the needs of forests and human pursuits often collide, sometimes coexist and on occasion find harmony. Some of his projects utilize a documentary approach while others use a more contemporary art practice. His photographs have been published in numerous magazines including Orion, Nature, Audubon, Outside, The L.A. Times Sunday Magazine and others. Public collections include The Portland Art Museum, Santa Barbara Art Museum, The Harry Ransom Center, Wildling Museum and others. His book Urban Forest, Images of Trees in the Human Landscape was chosen by The Christian Science Monitor as one of their seven favorite books of 2003. The David Paul Bayles Photographic Archive was created in 2016 at The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley to archive his entire life’s work. He currently lives and photographs in the Coast range of western Oregon.


Peter Essick, Construction Site, Tucker, Georgia, 2019, archival pigment print, 20 x 29 inches, framed, $1275

What is your process like?
I have been working on a project photographing construction sites in Atlanta. I have been using a drone to get a unique perspective. I try to fly the drone early or late in the day when there are no workers at the site. My focus is on the patterns in the landscape that result from the construction of a residential or commercial building.

What inspired this image?
My main inspiration has been Abstract Expressionist paintings, especially those of the Color Field style. I am also inspired by the great aerial photographer, William Garnett, and the photographer Robert Adams who photographed new suburban constructions in Denver in the 1970s.

Can you share an interesting story about your subject matter or the making of your image?
Construction sites are a subject matter that by definition are constantly changing. After a while, I have found there are certain stages that are similar to all construction sites but I continue to find different designs in the land and buildings. What fascinates me the most are compositions that look abstract when seen from a distance, but reveal realistic details up close.

Peter Essick flying a drone

Named one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world by Outdoor Photography Magazine UK, Peter Essick has been influenced by many noted American landscape photographers from Carleton Watkins to Robert Adams. His goal is to make photographs that move beyond mere documentation to reveal in careful compositions the human impact of development as well as the enduring power of the land. Essick is the author of two books of his photographs, The Ansel Adams Wilderness and Our Beautiful, Fragile World. He has photographed stories for National Geographic on many environmental issues including climate change, high-tech trash, nuclear waste and freshwater. Essick's photographs are in public and private collections. He is represented by Lumière Gallery in Atlanta and Cavan Images in New York. Currently, Essick is working on a book of his photographs about Fernbank Forest, an urban old-growth forest in Atlanta, and will be published by Fall Line Press in the October 2019.

Stay tuned for next's week post, where we'll talk to Meg Griffiths and Virgil DiBiase

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