The Bridge Not Taken

What makes this bridge so interesting to me is its meaning as an artifact of individualism. It has served a practical function from inception until closing, but its roots lie in a certain kind of independent spirit that has both blessed and plagued the region since the first community came to settle in Harmonie.

Religious separatist leader, George Rapp came to the area from southern Germany by way of Economy, Pennsylvania in 1812, specifically, to be independent of the social and religious codes of the time. Robert Owen, Welsh Industrialist, bought the town from Rapp for the same reason and implemented an independent (visionary) social system. Modern day history reflects a similar spirit as individuals have moved and shaped the region outside the norm of social conventions and centralized political decision-making. The Harmony Way Bridge is a fine example. Apparently it took an act of Congress to authorize entrepreneurial businessmen to connect Indiana and Illinois in 1928.

Symbolically, I look at the bridge and marvel at the engineering involved in spanning the vagaries of the Wabash River along this part of its flow. It is a wonderful expression of form following function and creates a unique context for seeing the Wabash in its flood stages. I chose photographs during late fall and early spring because the trees that engulf the bridge are also reduced to their structural “skeletons.”

I used photography this past year when circumstances kept me away from the studio. I was unable to continue painting and I was at the end of a series, landscape paintings “Between Heaven and Earth” that were exhibited in a solo show at the Swope Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, September 2013 through early January 2014.

As for photography in general, I feel that “realism” is a term used in art to describe any medium used in a way that would document the subject as it actually appears to the eye. It is also my belief that photography was invented as a tool to document objective reality, i.e., to “tell the truth”. But, that was long ago and we live in a time when “realism” is a matter of style that is often used to make fiction believable. As Steve Franz put it when he coined the phrase digital verité in a blog post for The Fringe.

“ The style works so incredibly well as a fictional storytelling tool and fabricates realness so fully that its stylistic nature is replacing its realistic nature.” We see this in the arts, on the silver screen as well as  “photoshopped” fashion ads. Irrational reality has eclipsed our understanding of the surreal.

My work in photography ranges from truth to fiction. While I relish the ability to document realistically, I also believe we have grown visually “numb” and need a heightened sense of reality to actually “see.” We seem to rely on contradiction and distortion to remind us how something actually appears to our eye. Curiously, we have also become visually numb to total fiction as well.

I find minimal distortion a more powerful expressive tool than heavy-handed digital manipulation. To that end my photographic process involves layering multiple exposures, one over the other - connecting the dots - until a unified image is stitched together. In the stitching, there are a number of possible distortions that can occur, and part of my craft has to do with “managing” those distortions. I anticipate results during a photo shoot. Occasionally I enjoy a kind of collaboration with the process itself. Like painting, drawing, and especially print making, there are surprises that arise from the medium. I can either embrace those “gifts” and let them inform the process, or reject them as “mistakes” and manage the process so that they don’t happen again.

I use multiple exposures for my photographs of landscapes because a single frame rarely captures the “breadth” of the experience in nature. I also use an iPhone, exclusively, because it is as close as my back pocket and the resolution rivals many of the “serious” cameras out there in the world.

I hadn’t really thought of it while Mary Ann and I were building the concept for this show, but one of the earliest New Harmony Bridge studies I can remember is a piece by John Begley, Founding Director of New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art. He spliced photos of the Harmony Way Bridge on top of each other in a series of lithographs in the early 80’s. I hadn’t thought of them until long after this exhibit was underway, but I’m sure they were part of my subconscious … somewhere.

I want to thank WMI and their director, Ryan Rokicki, for hosting this exhibit. I also want to thank Gary Holstein for his enthusiasm during our planning stages and his referral to venues for consideration.

— Jonathan Soard

Between Heaven and Earth(reprise)
IVY Tech, Rockville, Indiana

February - July, 2015

Selection from the exhibitions at the Swope Museum of Art


Jonathan  SOARD