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Book of the Week: Selected by Sara J. Winston

Book Review Cloud Physics Photographs by Terri Weifenbach Reviewed by Sara J. Winston “Cloud Physics, a book borne from Terri Weifenbach's 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, brings us into a world where words no longer suffice..."

Cloud Physics By Terri Weifenbach.
Cloud Physics
Photographs by Terri Weifenbach

The Ice Plant, USA, 2021. In English. 216 pp..

Cloud Physics, a book borne from Terri Weifenbach's 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, brings us into a world where words no longer suffice. Weifenbach’s quintessential way of seeing — luscious color views of the land, animals, weather events and, for the first time, scientific tools — invites the reader to consider the interconnectedness between things, notably between clouds and the rest of biological existence. She implores us to consider that the natural order can no longer be overlooked:
“It’s difficult to study things that disappear and reappear, that are ephemeral. Weather is still difficult to predict. Through an animated conversation at a party I found there is a place in the center of the US, in Oklahoma, that studies clouds and the particles necessary for cloud making. They study the effect of photons. They study the atmosphere, and this is where my interest is… Photography too, is a measurement of sorts of atmosphere, of the effects of photons. In a photograph, it is seemingly unquantifiable.”

Moving through the pages we see moisture, rain, flowers, lush forests, weather occurrences and animals, all as evidence of patterns that repeat in nature. As I advance through the book, I feel a connection between the formal qualities of disparate observations of both the natural and manmade world. My heart beats to the tempo of the images: the pattern of a doe’s coat (that highlights a similar pattern to moisture particles floating in the air pages before), a scientific schematic graph, a scientific tool set against a Weifenbach-blue sky, and then cloudscapes, water behaving against gravity, insects and data. Amid these enumerations, I am transported and transfixed: in a cognitive loop of looking, noticing, perceiving, feeling.

The quantifiable and invisible facts that cannot be seen in the 117 color photographs of Cloud Physics are all “data captioned” near the end of the book with the location, date, precipitation, maximum temperature, humidity, wind speed and sea level pressure specific to each image. Numeric data visualizations made by the tools the artist photographed in Oklahoma at Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) of Southern Great Plains site are also interspersed throughout the pages, such as the Solar Irradiance measured by the Multi-filter Rotating Shadow Band Radiometer (20 June 2014).

Solar Irradiance measured by the Multi-filter Rotating Shadow Band Radiometer (20 June 2014)

The multifaceted visual facts of the book beckon to both the poetic and scientifically inclined alike. Or, as Luce Lebart phrases it at the conclusion of her essay in the book: “As Constable remarked, it also reminds us that the sky could still be a place in which to walk ‘arm in arm with Milton and Linnaeus’…”

The through line of Weifenbach’s books is her true reverence for the natural world. This first appears in her debut monograph, In Your Dreams (Nazraeli Press, 1997), where her signature lyricism, differential focus, and vibrant hues show us life as we’ve likely never observed it before. In Cloud Physics, this is magnified not only by her exacting eye and brilliant sequencing, but also by the sense of urgency to communicate the interconnectedness of the world no matter where the reader may find themself.

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Sara J. Winston is an artist based in the Hudson Valley region of New York, USA. She works with photographs, text, and the book form to describe and respond to chronic illness and its ongoing impact on the body, mind, family, and memory. Sara is the Photography Program Coordinator at Bard College and on the faculty of the Penumbra Foundation Long Term Photobook Program.