Shifting Sands

Between Light and Shadow, photographs by John B. Weller

At the Wilding Art Museum, through September
10

Reviewed by Brett Leigh Dicks

Dune-Shapes-and-Frosted-Sha.jpgFor 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.

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