Between Light and Shadow, photographs by John B. Weller
At the Wilding Art Museum, through September 10
Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks
For three and a half years, photographer John B. Weller explored the inner depths of one of America’s lesser-known national treasures. Great Sand Dunes National Park sits nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. With dunes that reach up to 800 feet in height, the system resides among alpine lakes, rolling tundra, and jagged mountain peaks. Needless to say this provides an enchanting palette for a nature photographer. Despite the dynamic subject matter, organizing a project around such geographic constraints is not an easy task. Yet this exhibit succeeds in being as diverse and enchanting as the setting itself.
Using a digital printing process called Chromira, which employs a continuous dispersion of tone rather than a matrix of color dots, Weller seduces the viewer with 25 richly glowing prints that wander the subjective spectrum. Equally comfortable exploring abstract compositions of texture and tone or sweeping vistas projecting the inherent drama of the landscape, Weller presents a seamless portrayal of an eclectic muse. Windswept dunes, pristine pools, footprints of passing fauna, and the setting that embraces these are depicted with equal elegance. Weller realizes the natural diversity of the environment at the same time that he stays true to his artistic intuition.
Weller’s plan for the series included revisiting the region at various times of the year. While the seasonal extremes he encountered might have been challenging for the artist, they are rewarding for the viewer. Two of the most striking images are contained in a diptych showing two slightly different observations of the same sand-dune crest. On one side of the crest, a subtle shadow cascades from the crisp ridge. This might be a common photographic observation, but its uniqueness in this instance lurks in the shadows. There, an accumulation of ice subtly reflects the blue of the sky, bringing eccentricity to the print’s sense of abstraction.
It is not only in abstraction that Weller’s empathetic vision shines. From the gentle ridges and slopes that comprise “Backlit Ridges, May” through to the quietly meandering intersection of sand and water in “Shoreline, Reflected Dunes, Medano Creek, March,” Weller also revels in the literal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in an image of a lone pronghorn staring out from the top of a rise. Oblivious to the storm clouds gathering behind, the antelope stands transfixed by the sight of the photographer. One senses that the isolation and drama of this image might be what the photographer himself felt while working in this remarkable place.