This body of work considers human intervention in the landscape. Any purpose imposed on the land leaves a mark that can show a past narrative. These signs/signals inhabit our everyday world, where collectively, they can take on the surreal quality of a dream. This developing series from the Southwest invokes history and interpretation by looking at what remains from scenarios that once held meaning or utility.
Buddhist teaching describes the three marks of existence: impermanence, imperfection, and emptiness. These characteristics are also ubiquitous in the high plains landscape of New Mexico. There are physical marks of existence: bullet-riddled objects, animal skeletons, glass shards—objects which once accompanied life are what remain.
The New Mexico area I’ve come to know in my explorations is a storied landscape.
There are regional influences here acting on me while photographing. There’s a sense here that the land goes on forever, and there’s a history of destruction. Surrounding Roswell (the town where I live), twelve underground missile silos held long-range ICBMs, at the ready in the 1960s. The first above-ground nuclear explosion was done at the nearby Trinity site, and just south of here is a site where they bury nuclear waste in underground salt beds.
Atoms are composed almost entirely of space. The weight of an average cloud passing overhead is a million pounds yet seems weightless.
It’s an exterior scene and an inner pull that stops me in my tracks to photograph the landscape. Places have an emotional resonance. The landscape has surprises and narratives. While photographing in the landscape, I’m called by the mysterious and beautiful, the exploited and overlooked.
A photograph has a frequency. We can understand the signal on some level when we feel the resonance of an image. Or, in the words of the late photographer/educator Nathan Lyons: “Photography is when used with its regard for inherent directness, a unique and exacting means of isolating inner realities found in correspondence with the physical world.”
Some questions I’m asking: how much can be removed from a composition until a scene’s essence is revealed? Can it be reduced to a feeling, with space for the viewer to enter? My intention is to leave the photographs open for interpretation.
Photography is a means of collecting: a car hood with a constellation of holes shot through it; posts standing in formation framing earth and sky, their billboard and its message long gone; the patina on a corrugated metal facade; a doorway palimpsest.
For this current work, I use a Diana camera from the 1960s constructed almost entirely of plastic. With its low-fidelity plastic lens, the camera transcribes the world in a way that reveals light, shape, and mood while sacrificing sharp detail, rendering scenes that resonate with my own feeling and experience. I photograph with black and white film, scan the negatives, and make archival pigment prints on Kozo (mulberry fiber) paper.
Tonee Harbert grew up in Oregon and has lived most of his life in Maine. He is currently based in Roswell, New Mexico. https://www.toneeharbert.com/about
Image at top: Tonee Harbert, Untitled (Refinery), archival pigment print, 22 x 22 in., 2020.
You must log in to post a comment.