Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ben Depp at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Have you ever dreamed you could fly like an eagle, gliding over remote places that we rarely ever see? Environmental photographer, Ben Depp, does that routinely in a flimsy motor-powered paraglider, soaring for hours above the surface of south Louisiana's swamps in search of vivid views of our changing coastline. The otherworldly and often devastatingly revealing, nature of these Bayou's End images betray no trace of the grueling endurance that went into their making; they simply appear as colorful visual revelations that fuse art and science into a new, poetically holistic kind of insight. The 19th century writer Lafcadio Hearn once described these regions as places where “all things seem to dream,” but that beauty has clearly taken a disturbing turn in vast swaths of marshlands so riddled with industrial canals that they resemble delicate green lace ripped to shreds, rapidly dissolving into open sea. Traces of the old beauty remain, but palpable signs of a once thriving, but now drowning, coast are an inescapable presence.

Depp's focus on environmental photojournalism for publications like Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic lend a real world depth to dreamy compositions like his Mother Cabrini view of a wrecked fishing trawler amid dead marsh grasses near Venice, Louisiana, top left. Here the striking view of a capsized vessel is so iconic that it could serve equally well as an illustration for a children's story or an annotated scientific thesis. American Bay is an idyllic vision of the misty, mirror-like sea lapping the shifting sands of Plaquemines Parish, but Retreating Shoreline resembles an ecological crime scene for the way Elmer's Island, off Jefferson Parish, appears ravaged by predatory human incursions. Depp's boldly graphical compositional flair defines works like Cameron Parish, above, where evenly spaced rock jetties transform Gulf waves into a baroque watery filigree lapping a fragile sandy shore. In Jeanerette, slashes of blue sky reflected from an inundated cane field suggest an ominous vision by a Cajun Anselm Kiefer, but Trees Recover after Flooding, top, is a vision of Vermillion Parish as fantastical as any Max Ernst landscape. In this Bayou's End show, Depp vividly illustrates that in Louisiana the boundaries between art and life are as shifting as the boundaries between the land and the sea. ~Bookhardt / Bayou’s End: Photographs of the South Louisiana Swamps by Ben Depp, Through June 30th, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313.