Take Me to the River: Photographs of Atlantic Rivers

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9781938086427: Take Me to the River: Photographs of Atlantic Rivers

"Take Me to the River" explores four post-industrial rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean―the Androscoggin (Maine/New Hampshire), Schuylkill (Pennsylvania), James (Virginia), and Savannah (Georgia/South Carolina)―as they emerge from two centuries of use and neglect. With vastly improved water quality in each river since enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act, public affection has gradually increased as memories of foul smells and fetid water fade. Today, these rivers still carry the legacies of longstanding pollution in their currents and sediments, yet they have become waterways, renewed and rediscovered, that our grandparents never could have envisioned. "Take Me to the River" comprises four portfolios of ambrotypes of these rivers, from source to sea. Three extensive essays offer different perspectives on ways of seeing and thinking about these places: one by the photographer on the collodion process; a historical view by Alison Nordström, the former Senior Curator of Photography at the George Eastman House, on the importance of Kolster’s work; and an environmental history of Atlantic rivers by the noted historian Matthew Klingle. Kolster’s dramatic yet understated photographs were made in a portable darkroom set up along the banks of the rivers with the wet-plate photographic process, a nineteenth-century method famously used to document the battlefields of the Civil War and the great vistas of the far American West. The chemical slurries that develop and fix the image on the glass plate mimic the movements of a river’s current, and the idiosyncratic qualities of the ambrotypes reference the historical coincidence of the dawn of photography and the industrialization of Europe and America. With consensus building about our changing climate and the extent humans are responsible, these four Atlantic rivers challenge us to set aside our usual blinders of seeing the landscape as either pure or despoiled. As the boundaries between the human and the natural are increasingly entangled, these rivers suggest how we might embrace, even cherish, places once degraded and ignored.

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About the Author:

Michael Kolster is a photographer and associate professor of art at Bowdoin College who, in 2013, was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Photography. His photographs have been featured in Loupe, the Journal of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, Memorious, and Consilience―The Journal of Sustainability, and they are in the collections of the Capital One Financial Corporation, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, and Polaroid Corporation, among others. Kolster has numerous solo and two-person exhibitions, including those at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, SRO Gallery at Texas Tech University, Schroeder Romero and Shredder Gallery in New York City, and 621 Gallery in Tallahassee, Florida.

Review:

"Kolster’s photographs are magical. To see them is to slip in time between past and present, to know rivers as products of natural and cultural forces, to reflect on the place of rivers in American culture, and to appreciate how photographs can transform understanding. Take Me to the River is required reading for all who care about photography, landscape, and the presence of history." (Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT and author of The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery and The Language of Landscape)

"Kolster's ambrotype photos are like rivers. They testify to the past, present, and future―here, a couple centuries of industrial history and the twenty-first century efforts to clean it all up―while remaining irresistibly beautiful." (Jenny Price, author of Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America)

"The medium is perfectly suited to the message in this beautiful and thought-provoking book. The light-sensitive emulsions flowing over the polished glass of Kolster’s gorgeous ambrotype plates evoke the river water he stops dead still with his camera. Images and rivers, both, possess a serenity that belies their complex industrial histories. By using a slow and laborious nineteenth-century process, Kolster makes us pause to wonder how we can find unexpected glimpses of beauty in our own lives and to think hard about historical change, never a one-way street." (Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History at Princeton University and author of Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace and Print the Legend: Photography and the American West)

"Michael Kolster’s book is one of beautifully realized images and great writing by the artist, curator Alison Nordström, and historian Matthew Klingle. It is an unforgettable collection of downstream images, memories, and aspirations where the river will always be saved." (Christopher James, author of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes)

“Due to the long exposures necessary to capture an ambrotype, Kolster has created a juxtaposition between solid elements ― bridges, trees and factories ― and the soft fluidity of rivers, always moving and changing. This book is a magical representation of how something thought lost or ruined can be renewed, how even flaws and rough edges can be beautiful.” (Photographer's Forum)

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