If gallery goers at the opening of Earth Now: American Photographers and the Environment expected mantel-ready frames of distant peaks and sinuous canyons, they would have been surprised by a collection that stands nearly in defiance of traditional landscape photography. "Landscapes can be boring," said Kate Ware, the exhibition’s curator at the New Mexico Museum of Art. "I wanted to do something that was grounded in the permanent collection but hadn’t been done before."
"First you have the idealists. Then you have doomsayers. But contemporary landscape photographers -- 21st century artists -- they're centrists. They ask questions. That's what I wanted to do -- ask questions. I'm not trying to prove a thesis," said Ware. "Those photographs of the trees split by power lines, Beth Lilly's? I've been trying for years to get them into the collection."
At the opening on April 8, a small crowd of artists gathered around Ware in the gallery entrance. Ware, 50, had the frazzled look of a woman unaccustomed to being at the center of attention. She tried to hush the crowd, and when they didn’t hear, she inhaled deeply, held up her arms, and belted, "Let a hush descend upon the galleries." In an instant, the room fell quiet. Ware took another nervous breath and sang a line of a Nina Simone song. She shook her head and began again. "Birds flyin' high, you know how I feel…It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me, oh I'm feeling good." The gallery filled with applause, and the artists waved peace signs and pumped their fists for onlookers who snapped pictures.
In the foyer of the museum, Ware slumped into the chair behind the reception desk. "This way no one else can bother us," she said, as a friend ran over and grabbed her hand. "You really have done it," the friend said, and Ware's eyes began to water.
Read an interview with and see images from featured photographer Sharon Stewart. Photographs courtesy of New Mexico Museum of Art. Hurt Drive by Beth Lilly; Corn Diversity by Dornith Doherty; Two Grey Hills by Bremner Benedict.
Sierra Crane-Murdoch is an HCN intern.