Barbara Yoshida, Deer Carcass, Sleeping Bear Dunes, 1997 Photogravure
Not only did Barbara Yoshida participate in the 1996 Artist-in-Residency program at Sleeping Bear Dunes, but she is also doing a residency this September at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin, and in October at Acadia National Park in Maine. She is a "big supporter of the Artist-in-Residence Program that the National Park Service is conducting. In these days of shrinking support of the National Endowment for the Arts, it is encouraging that the NPS is actually expanding this program."
What I Hope to Achieve
from a residency at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
And My Ability to Meet the Selection Criteria
By Barbara Yoshida
Barbara Yoshida, Block Island Gull - 1, 1995 Van Dyke Brown.
If I am to be known by future generations, I hope that it is as an artist who was so passionate about the wonderful diversity of life forms on this planet that her work caused people to stop and think, to care a little more about some obscure Species they'd never even heard of before they saw the work. I believe that it is possible, even in this post-modern fin de siecle, to make art that inspires awe and a sense of wonder--that reflects a view of the natural world as a living and vital being, and represents an ethical reciprocity between humans, other creatures, and nature--and that ultimately leaves the viewer with a sense of how fragile that natural world is.
What I hope to gain is a body of work that will engender a more compassionate attitude toward the conservation of obscure and seemingly useless creatures, both endangered and not-on-the-list-yet species. I would like the opportunity to work in partnership with the National Park Service toward cultivating an expanded public awareness of the consequences of habitat destruction, through education and aesthetic enhancement of plant and animal forms whose importance has not received the attention of some of the more popular large mammals.
Public debates about the fate of endangered species like the palila and the snail darter have shown quite conclusively that an attractive bird species has a much better chance of winning its case with the American public than an unknown fish that is not good to eat. Art can address this issue by showing the beauty of the unfamiliar, the unpopular, the heretofore despised and dismissed. It seems clear that if we, as artists, believe that a richer and more rewarding life hinges on a healthy and diverse biota, then we must acknowledge that it is our role to help get this message to others.
Barbara Yoshida, Block Island Gull - 4, 1995 Van Dyke Brown.
One of the primary functions of the camera is to preserve images. For me, the preservation of images in nature with a camera is inextricably linked to the care and preservation of the various plant and animal species themselves. The medium fits the message.
The success of my work, as represented by the slides submitted with this application, is in its ability to challenge viewers to contemplate their relationship to other forms of life--to jar their complacency with juxtapositions of life and death. On a primal level, many people find themselves thinking about the mass extinction of species (currently estimated at 15,000 to 30,000 annually) when they see these photos of bones or the dead gull on the sand. At the same time another message is being delivered: beauty can be found in something that a moment ago they would have thought impossible. I hope to find ways of presenting living forms in an equally challenging and beautiful way.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a particularly rich and diverse landscape, offering innumerable choices for my photography work. Because I grew up on Lake Coeur d'Alene, in North Idaho not far from the Canadian border, an area with a history of French Canadian fur trappers, logging and Native Americans, I know I will be right at home there. We did a lot of camping while I was growing up, and one of my favorite memories is of Upper Priest Lake, which could only be reached by boat from Priest Lake. There were beaver and bear nearby, and nature that was truly unspoiled. I have no doubt that this background has had a significant effect on my development as an artist and concerned citizen.
I am in good health, and am very self-sufficient. I recently completed an artist's residency of three and one-half weeks at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and chose to camp in one of the walk-in sites where I could hear the waves on the shores of Lake Michigan as well as the geese flying overhead. Some nights the temperature was below thirty degrees, and it was incredible--simple and remote accommodations are preferred! I even hauled my large format (4 x 5) camera and equipment the six to seven miles roundtrip from the boat landing so I could photograph the virgin grove of white cedars on South Manitou Island, so as you can see, I am physically fit and self-motivated.
Because there were no facilities to develop my film at Sleeping Bear
Dunes, I have been quite busy since my return, developing all my film and
preparing enlarged negatives and positives from which to work. One of my
favorite images is that of a beautiful deer carcass, picked clean with the
rib cage standing up in the grass. I have just finished making a copper
plate from which I am eagerly looking forward to doing an edition of photogravure
prints; I have included a slide of the artist's proof for this print. I
also have some lovely photographs of trees. I will be pleased to send some
of these prints to Sleeping Bear Dunes, and will also gladly contribute
the best examples of the work I do at Apostle Islands to the National Park
Service there. Some of my fondest memories of my time at Sleeping Bear Dunes
are hiking, canoeing with one of the Rangers on River Patrol, sitting around
the campfires of the host couples who volunteer at the Park, and showing
some of the local community how to use my large format camera. Living as
I do in New York City, it is difficult to find opportunities to work in
nature, away from city lights. My residency at Sleeping Bear Dunes has only
whetted my appetite for more experiences of this type!
HOW I PROPOSE TO ASSIST THE LAKESHORE
Barbara Yoshida, Pumpkin Field, Coldwater, Michigan, 1997 Photogravure.
Through teaching I have found that the best way to get a message across is by sharing a meaningful activity. I would love to give a talk on nature photography, accompanied by slides or a display of photographs, including images by some of the best nature photographers as well as some of my own work. As I did at Sleeping Bear Dunes, I will show the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Minor White, Paul Caponigro, and John Pfahl, and include in the talk the notion of biophilia devised by Edward O. Wilson and Stephen Kellert, along with the writings of Stephen Jay Gould. A feeling of connectedness to nature and an ethical responsibility for its welfare have often been found in the arts and these days can increasingly be discerned in the language of modern science.
The talk will be followed by a photography walk, during which I will assist anyone who is interested in the use of my large format (4 x 5) camera. (This part was a lot of fun for people at Sleeping Bear Dunes.) Using Polaroid positive/negative film gives a print to look at within minutes of taking a shot, and the opportunity to change the composition and shoot again if desired. Participants will be given their negatives from which they can print later.
I will also bring to Apostle Islands my experience as a member of The Linnaean Society. This past summer I assisted Helen Hays of The American Museum of Natural History at the Great Gull Island Project, one of the most extraordinary colonial seabird nesting sites in the West Atlantic. I am particularly interested in any work the staff is doing regarding the birds at the Lakeshore, and think it would be great fun to go birding with visitors.
The preservation of living diversity through a fresh appreciation of
nature and its forms is a primary concern in my work, and I would appreciate
the opportunity to work together with park staff in order to have a positive
influence on visitors to the Lakeshore. The mandate was given to us by Theodore
Roosevelt: "The Nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources
as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and
not impaired, in value. "
Barbara Yoshida, Jaw Bone, Lilies, and Maple, 1993 Silvergelatin print.
One of the main themes in my work is that of life and death, or eroticism and death, as two sides of the same coin, the yin and yang which together form the whole. I was fascinated to read that in the earliest burial sites for Homo sapiens, cowrie shells were placed (symbolizing the vagina) and red ochre or cinnabar (perhaps signifying the blood of a broken hymen or of childbirth); the body was often placed in a fetal position, sometimes facing East to meet the point where the sun is "reborn." Sex leading to birth which ultimately leads to death, and then to rebirth, were all apparently seen from that early time as part of a cycle in nature and in mankind. The Upanisads regard the loss of a man's seed as a kind of death. The French philosopher Georges Bataille refers to orgasm as "la petite mort," the little death, and says "Eroticism is assenting to life even in death." And of course Freud linked forever the concepts of sex and death for contemporary cultures in the West.
As so I have juxtaposed a skull with pumpkins in this series, named after a Japanese poem which goes, "Who said 'My heart is like the autumn moon'?" The first four images are examples of an early photographic process called Van Dyke Brown, devised about 1899. A piece of 100% rag paper is brushed with a light-sensitive solution of ferric oxalate (an iron salt), oxalic acid, and silver nitrate. An enlarged negative is placed over it and it is exposed on a light table or in sunlight, then fixed and washed.
The fifth image in this series is an example of a photogravure print. Devised twenty years earlier than Van Dyke Brown, in 1879, photogravure depends on the principle that bichromated gelatin hardens in proportion to its exposure to light. From the negative, an enlarged positive is made on transparent film, which is placed onto a sheet of gelatin-coated paper which has been sensitized with potassium bichromate; this film & gelatin paper combination is exposed to light on the light table, and then the gelatin is wetted and applied to a copper plate. Then the copper plate is aquatinted and moved along through a series of acid baths, each one a different strength. Where the gelatin is thick (the highlights of the print to come), the acid eats away the metal slowly; where the gelatin is thin or absent, the acid bites faster. The plate is thus etched to different depths corresponding to the tones of the original image and then printed on an intaglio press like an etching. Unlike silkscreen or the images seen in the newspaper, which have a dot matrix, photogravure is a continuous tone process. So if the negative has a lot of tones, from the whitest white to the blackest black and everything in between, it will bring them all out. And since it uses good etching paper and inks, the blacks can be very rich and velvety.
I have always felt that the tragic mode is the most profound, because its poignancy intensifies the other side: the awareness of what has been lost cannot help but evoke the passion for what is yet to be lost. A work of art which captures the indescribable beauty of a form caught at the moment of death is communicating tragedy on a visceral level without the need for words.
By placing these symbols together-pumpkins & skull, lilies & jawbone, deer skull & apples, or deer skull & milkweed pods-I am talking about the life force-both sides of it. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes says, "The Creation Mother is always the Death Mother and vice versa...correcting for one side by dancing with the other." The creator-hag or death Goddess, sometimes called in Mexico La Huesera, the bone woman, must be embraced if we are to have her knowledge and complete the Life/Death/Life cycle. Eventually, we all have to kiss the hag." That's from her bestseller, Women Who Run with the Wolves.
I will close with a quote from Stephen Jay Gould, a famous paleontologist who teaches geology, biology, and the history of science at Harvard: "We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well-for we will not fight to save what we do not love."
Barbara Yoshida, Deer Skull, Milkweed Pods, and Birch, 1993 Silver Gelatin print.
Return to Artist Residencies in America's Parks (9/3/97)
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