Untitled, 2008, Travertine springs, Yellowstone National Park, Chromogenic print
People often speak of needing room to breathe amidst the maze of high-rise architecture in New York. It might only be temporary relief, and visual rather than literal, but should you find yourself feeling a bit hemmed in over the next month, a few moments in front of Victoria Sambunaris’ dramatic photographs will take you to another place.
The Gallery at Hermès, on the fourth floor of its Madison Avenue flagship, is the place to head, where you can see 10 new works by the New York-based photographer, taken since the beginning of last year. The places her work takes you though are far away from the urban grid of NYC to some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in America, shown in large scale to maximise the sense of awe in each.
Though ‘Terra Firma’ is the title of her exhibition the places she has photographed are some of the most ravaged by man or nature, paradoxically suggesting that it’s not so solid that we can’t scar it, and it can scar itself pretty permanently too, but equally that it’s solid enough to remain spectacular.
From the pipelines of Alaska to the mines of Nevada, the volcanoes at Yellowstone to the Snake River plane in Idaho, Sambunaris continues the tradition of the great landscape photographers of Robert Adams and Ansel Adams, tirelessly scouring, traversing and waiting for the right moment to capture the essence of what she wanted from each location. “My work in search of subject matter has taken me on seemingly every road, parkway, thruway, highway, freeway and turnpike between the coasts and beyond,” Sambunaris says.
The giant, sparse, unpopulated images she ends up with tell us not just that nature can be as violent as man in shaping landscape but that, whether ravaged by man or nature, abstract beauty can be gleaned in both. “My intent is to decontextualise the sites that I photograph by taking a neutral viewpoint, shedding judgement and transcending any obvious historical, symbolic or social meaning,” she says. “I am captivated by the idea of how we inhabit our landscapes as we forge ahead in our development. The suggestion of what fills our lives is somehow telling and strangely consoling.”