The Wheelbarrow Series - Artist Statement

Ice Moon, 2020, Archival pigment print, 38' x 51', Edition of 5

We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.
—Jacques Yves Cousteau


In the midst of climate change and an ongoing drought in the Southwest, I placed an old wheelbarrow under the canopy of a great Ponderosa pine, with the intent to photograph it and its contents through the four seasons and over a few years. Soon, the wheelbarrow began to gather signs and signifiers for each day’s unfolding moments, and for larger things wandering on the edge of the mind, the new normal of anxiousness about our whole world. The interior of the wheelbarrow went from empty and rusted to a dry pine-needle filled interior, to floating leaves in rain water to pine cones embedded in layers of ice and snow, and back to dry rust. This ongoing process, the beauty of it, the unexpected patterns created in this small world, became a metaphor for the delicate changing nature in our care.

Today, as I write this, fires are raging all around New Mexico. Wind-blown clouds of dust and plumes of smoke obscure the sky. The mountains disappear and are traced only through a veil of smoke. The air quality is poor, and people are asked to stay indoors, or get ready for evacuation. Our whole landscape is changing. As Tolkien writes, “The world is changing: I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth, I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost. . . .” The mountains that surround us, the Sangre de Cristos and the Jemez, used to be tree covered and green but now are brown with large swatches of empty spaces from the effects of climate change, bark beetle infestations, and wildfires. There is no rain in sight. With the monsoon winds and the acute dryness of the land, it’s a perfect combination for fire to spread. It is crucial and now more important than ever to acknowledge that climate change is here and is affecting our lives in monumental ways.

As the series progressed, I realized the images began to reference chaos theory, which brought to mind my mentor, colleague, and friend, Eliot Porter. I started working with Eliot in 1980. One of his main interests was the study of physics. In 1987 James Gleick published his ground-breaking research into chaos theory, which offered a way of understanding the order and behavior of the patterns of nature that seem to be apparently random and unpredictable, where structure echoes itself on all scales and in diverse forms. A random collection of fallen leaves; the growth of lichen and moss on rocks; the movement of water, weather, and the swirl of desert sands are all patterns that repeat themselves in nature. Gleick’s work had a profound effect on Eliot. He realized that most of his life’s work was photographing recurring patterns in nature. I see this in my images as well.

This body of work was ongoing during the pandemic. As an artist, finding subject matter that one can immerse one’s self in for years doesn’t come easily. This work, peering into my own environment, literally in my own backyard, became a daily meditation. The isolation of the pandemic, as difficult as it was, allowed me the time to look deeper, keeping still while working within. The work made daily and over the past years is a visual metaphor for the passing of time and gave me a spiritual centering that was very needed to maintain a life now so isolated.

Nature should be viewed without distinction…she makes no choice herself. Withering follows blooming, death follows growth, 
decay follows death, and life follows decay in a wonderful, complicated end- less web the surface beauties of which are manifest to a point of view unattached to vulgar, restricting concepts of what constitutes beauty in nature.

Eliot Porter, Nature’s Chaos