Boston-based photographer Laura McPhee is no stranger to the Wood River Valley. She has been showing her large-scale photographs of the Sawtooth National Forest wildfires at the Gail Severn Gallery for the past few years. McPhee returns to the valley often to capture the changing landscape of Idaho. Her most recent images are part of her current show, "Guardians of Solitude," which will be exhibited at the gallery through the end of August.
McPhee was the Alturas Foundation's first artist-in-residence and she lived in Idaho roughly six months out of the year, documenting the interaction between humanity and nature. The photographs became her first major solo museum exhibition, "River of No Return," which opened at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in May 2006.
McPhee captures wildfire devastation and rejuvenation through a large-format Deardorf viewfinder camera, which allows her to create large photographs with impeccable detail and rich color.
"It's more about how we perceive things than the fire itself," McPhee said. "I think these images are very Japanese in their look."
Last summer, McPhee returned to the region to photograph the aftermath of several Sawtooth National Forest wildfires for her book "Guardians of Solitude," a sequel to "River of No Return."
Images from Fourth of July Creek canyon reveal a land in rebirth. A scorched forest has a forest floor of green and flowering fireweed and hollyhocks, which present the entire cycle of life. Other images, which resemble paintings, reveal snow-covered, high-dessert plants.
"There is a change in perspective with devastation when renewal follows," McPhee said. "The idea of ruin is not what follows—it's rejuvenation."
McPhee's images are large-scale because she wants to invite the viewer into the world she is capturing. She is asking viewers to understand that the images are not about the fire and its damage, but how the process of fire and its effect on the land is perceived.
"I like the feeling that you are walking through the trees and feel a part of the regeneration process," McPhee said.
McPhee said the images for her "Early Spring-Peeling Bark in the Rain" diptych are digitally printed, a technology she is using for the first time.
"I have always done C-print for large-scale photographs, but the digital prints are finally as good a quality as C-prints," she said.
McPhee said that at first, she was not thinking of diptychs but she was very excited to see how two images came together.
Iris Editions in London published "Guardians of Solitude," a large-format, limited-edition book with only 20 images that includes the diptychs on exhibition. The book is available at the Gail Severn Gallery.
McPhee is a photography professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, and is the daughter of writer John McPhee and photographer Pryde Brown.
Sabina Dana Plasse: email@example.com