Seeing without judging

from the Boston Globe

July 22, 2014


Nature’s majesty in Karen Halverson’s landscape photographs, now up at Robert Klein Gallery, usually pivots around something man-made. Amid the sun-washed cliffs, brooding skies, and endless tracts of land squat ugly sheds, plastic chairs, and gaudy silos.

A nubbly sea of ferociously pink flowers garnished with greenery fills two-thirds of “Mulholland at Cold Canyon Road, Los Angeles, California, 1993.” It bumps up against a field of dried grass and shrubs. That edge is littered with roughly 20 big wooden poles, splayed like pickup sticks. The image raises a question of degree: What is natural here? What is cultivated? Is the carpet of flowers more natural than the discarded poles? “Hoover Dam, Arizona-Nevada Border, 1995” balances the crisp beauty of the dam’s design against the craggy backdrop of the cliff faces beyond. As twilight settles, lights illuminate the intake towers; they might be temples. The high, red streaks of an 18-wheeler’s taillights edge the top of the dam like a halo.

It’s easy for a lover of landscape to deploy knee-jerk distaste of traces of human interference. These marks of habitation don’t scar the landscapes. Sometimes they’re lovely, sometimes strange. Halverson doesn’t judge what she sees; she merely witnesses.