Britt Salvesen for Michael Lundgren
|Moving to the desert three years ago from the Midwest, I wondered how and why people had survived here. Arizona felt like another planet, with its towering saguaros, hallucinatory mountain ranges, blinding sunlight. The desert seemed to threaten sight at every turn and yet at the same time to compel vision. For over 150 years, photographers have grappled with this optical paradox. O’Sullivan, Sommer, Misrach: these and others comprise a tradition in which the medium and the land collude and collide. An artist working today must therefore confront precedent and convention as well as the environment itself. In accepting this dual challenge, Michael Lundgren finds a way to say something new about and with photography, pointing toward a 21st-century redefinition of medium-specificity. Craft is fundamental in his work, but is not an end in itself. Taking tradition into account, he exploits the expressive and reductive potential of traditional black-and-white, gelatin-silver printing. He deploys light and framing as formal components, while moving beyond the issue of representation versus abstraction. For Lundgren, photography’s embeddedness in the world, like his own seven-year residency in the desert of the Southwest, is a point of departure rather than a conclusion. Lundgren has said that his pictures are “not related to a specificity of place,” but I would recast this remark. In choosing to photograph this particular environment over a sustained period of time, Lundgren produced a body of work that conveys something elemental about both the desert and about photography, something more to do with metaphor than with materiality. This exploration will now continue into other territories.
Center for Creative Photography