<strong>Nell Campbell, “Footprints of First Responders,” 2018:</strong> “I didn’t photograph right after the debris flow because [authorities] asked us to stay out. I didn’t want to get in the way or fall in a pool. In May, a friend asked me to photograph his damaged house. He wanted a record of it and as they demolished it. In that process, I went across the creek to get a different viewpoint. That’s where I saw the footprints. I didn’t know what they were at first, but I was fascinated by them. They were interesting and poignant because they were beautiful, but the reason they were there was so sad."
Nell Campbell

Ansel Adams landscapes they are not. Full of tension and uncertainty, the nature photographs that hang in the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art instead reflect an increasingly fraught relationship between humankind and the environment. “We didn’t go for pretty images,” said museum director Judy Larson. “We went for emotional reaction.”

Sometimes, the conflict is obvious, as in the documentary-style photograph by Elaine Mayes of a lightning bolt piercing the New York skyline. Or in the darkly whimsical composite created by Anthony Goicolea of a once-calm ocean cove soiled by industry. Other times, the impact of people on nature is less obvious. Jerry Siegel’s panoramic print, for instance, depicts a starkly beautiful piece of rural Alabama that hides a history of plantation slave labor.

The bulk of the exhibit — titled Watershed: Contemporary Landscape Photography — is on loan from the Telfair Museum in Georgia and explores countrywide themes of sustainability, development, and climate change. “It’s really a showcase of shared issues,” said Larson. “From the East Coast to the West Coast, from the Midwest to the South, it asks us to pay attention and get involved.” Larson also decided to feature the work of Santa Barbara photographers, who’ve recorded the region’s inescapable connection to droughts, fires, and floods.

The show opened January 10, a year and a day since Montecito was ravaged by a deadly debris flow and just two weeks before the 50th anniversary of the 1969 oil spill. It coincides as well with the launch of Westmont’s new environmental studies minor this fall and a number of upcoming art- and environmental-related events. For details, visit westmont.edu.

The Independent spoke with two Santa Barbara photographers and emailed a Southern-based artist about their “Watershed” works. The captions with each image are condensed versions of our conversations.

<strong>Bill Dewey, “Lake Cachuma Shoreline,” 2016:</strong> “I’ve been doing aerial photography for 40 years, and in that time I’ve developed favorite spots. Cachuma is one of them. It’s so ephemeral. Especially the east end. As the lake shrinks, there’s an incredible transformation of the shoreline as the grasses lose their source of water, and this banding effect emerges. I’m a Southern California native, so I understand we pretty much live in a desert. Our relationship with our water sources is always in the back of my mind. People may see a beautiful image, but the subliminal effort is to bring their attention to the bigger picture.”
Bill Dewey
<strong>William Greiner, “TV in Bayou,” 1993:</strong> “‘TV in Bayou’ touches on many things: First, it was a commentary about what the television provided. I was a bit down on the medium/machine. Second, I am a native of New Orleans, a city which is below sea level. I always had a hard time understanding how we existed ‘below sea level.’ Third, Southern Louisiana is a culture of fishing and hunting. Our license plates read, ‘Sportsman’s Paradise.’ Somehow, this [photograph] did not really play into that notion. Lastly, the image now resonates with an apocalyptic undertone of lost society and something which did not survive. Katrina was a life-changing experience for me. It was a reminder of the fragility of our environment and place.”
William Greiner


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