“Sunset Rock, North Mountain” by Susan Wides, chromogenic print, 50” x 40”, 2007.
The mountain view from Susan Wides’s Catskill home inspired her to make pilgrimages to the sites of Hudson River School paintings and re-see them from a 21st-century vantage point. In Sunset Rock, North Mountain, the left edge of the ridge blurs into near obscurity, while the lake at the center looks as sharp as it is cold. An out-of-focus man walking with the tilt of wind-blown trees seems a branch himself.
Using a 4x5 camera with a moveable lens, Wides manipulates focal points in her photographs, blurring some areas while bringing others into sharp focus. Like human subjectivity, a camera lens can only capture a small portion of a larger picture. Combined with these filmic distortions, Wides’s photographs create a sense of how perception operates. “When you focus in on certain details in your environment, your eye sort of darts from place to place,” she explains. “I’m interested in mirroring that.”
Wides’s subjects are also crossroads of the natural and artificial. Her most current series, “From Mannahatta to Kaaterskill,” represents what she describes as a “14-year photographic study of the perception of place in locations along the urban-rural spectrum from New York through suburbia to the Catskills.” Revisiting sites that the mid-19th-century Hudson River School painted, Wides exposes the industrial imprints that were purposefully left out of those idealized depictions by looking at the natural world through the lens of human constructs. Near Catskill Creek shows a car junkyard that blends into the fall foliage behind it. White Plains Sprawl captures a sunset horizon in the glass reflection of a skyscraper. Wides reveals not only humanity’s mark on nature, but how the two are extensions of one another.
Wides’s interest in alternative perspectives of places started at age 10. “I did my first photo project shooting down at the spectacle of the [New York World’s] Fair from the monorail,” she says. Many of her shots of Manhattan, including a recent series of Occupy protesters in Zuccotti Park, are taken from atop skyscrapers. “The bird’s-eye perspective gives people a sense of the space of the encampment in the park,” says Wides. “This was missing from the massive photography coverage.” The angle simultaneously disorients and broadens our understanding of the place; the resulting photograph reveals the connection between how we see things and what we think about them.
Though Wides’s subjects vary, from botanical gardens and spider webs to wax figures and waterfalls, they are all transformed by the subjective lens used to view them, whether a person’s or a camera’s. Susan Wides’s photographs document not only the contradictions inherent in our world, but also in the process of perceiving them.
Wides’s photographs are featured in the “Cowgirls #4” group show at Brik Gallery in Catskill through September 16, and her studio will be included in the Fifth Annual Village of Catskill Artists Tour on September 8 and 9, from 11am to 5pm. Special preview exhibition and party at M Gallery in Catskill on September 7, 6 to 9pm. Mgallery-online.com. Portfolio: Susanwides.com.