The work included here represents the latest exploration of the Excavation project I began in 2006. The excavation is literal—the photographs utilize the details of disturbed land as the setting for the arrangements I create and then photograph. Earlier examples emphasized throwaways in the compositions. In our consumer culture, we toss away the objects we buy with ease. It seems the landscape is equally expendable. The recent work stresses natural objects and materials. In either case, I’m interested in how nature recovers from the scars we inflict on the landscape.
Essentially I’m doing still life using whatever I find—mud, rock or plant material—as part of the setup. This staged approach, focusing on relatively small details, tends to emphasize formal order, and indeed I delight in the contemplative aspect of view camera work. But I also consciously mimic the haphazard look of the discarded, which can in turn be ordered by the process of seeing photographically. Even the random marks from the dozer can reveal some underlying structure. Art gives us the opportunity to imagine order where none is apparent.
I’m especially interested in the order that the forces of nature generate. My compositions evolve. The sun, wind and rain can significantly change the effect in a few hours or a few months. The transformation creates surprises—good and bad—as I photograph the various stages of deterioration. Lately I’m using common roofing felt as a substrate for the process to unfold.
The recent work emphasizes new formal possibilities, just as the land itself continually reconfigures the disruption. Plant life seems to flourish even in the most inhospitable situations. I believe the planet Earth will be just fine in the long term. Whether or not it will suitable for human habitation remains an open question.
– Gary Cawood