Presence 1 (TJ), 2013
In 2006, I was introduced to the American artist Charles Burchfield’s work and identified with his reverence for nature and anthropomorphic vision of the landscape. Seven years later, in 2013, I was named the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s first Artist-in-Residence. Presence is the series of 15 photographs that I made throughout the year with an 8x10 inch camera in the landscape across from Burchfield’s former residence, now a nature preserve, in Buffalo, NY.
I began my residency by studying Burchfield’s paintings, journals, and writings related to solitude and I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a meditation on her discoveries during a year of observing nature in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She, like Burchfield, was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s nature writings and transcendental philosophy, which posits that the natural world is formed and informed by spirits and that its elements are symbols of a greater spirituality.
Despite my initial focus on solitude, what I experienced in Buffalo was not isolation at all, but, in fact, a strong sense of accompaniment. I was bolstered by the generous—indeed, unprecedented—support of colleagues at the Center, who were present to guide and provide me with resources and opportunities that enriched my experience. What emerged was a series of portraits of trees and still lives that depict coupled saplings and intertwined vines with circular motifs.
I titled the images with the names of the creative progenitors of the environmental movement and other influences important to my residency and practice as a landscape photographer: Presence 5, Charles Burchfield; Presence 8, Wendell Berry, the environmental activist and writer; Presence 7, Annie Dillard; Presence 10, Tony Bannon, Executive Director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and a long-time mentor; Presence 2, Nancy Weekly, Burchfield scholar, head of collections, and curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center; and Presence 13, Josephine N. Cusimano, my grandmother, who raised me in a nearby Western New York landscape and whose love for the natural world cultivated my own.