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Arts & Entertainment

The Beauty of Ambiguity

by Grace Hatton, Reverb Editor

Eric Baden's photography was displayed in Holden Art Gallery Feb. 1-20.

Warren Wilson Photography Professor and Art Department Chair Eric Baden recently brought his unique images of the Peruvian desert to the Holden Art Gallery with his latest exhibition “InBetween”.

“InBetween” was on display at Holden Feb. 1-20 and was previously displayed at the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2012. The exhibition features a series of photographs that focus on two regions on the Peruvian desert: a site known as Toro Munto in the desert province of Arequipa and an area of the Ocucaje desert in the region of Ica.

The images were collected by Baden over four years as he travelled throughout Peru. “From October 2008 to July 2012, I made a series of visits to these areas and traveled in between them on the busses that run the Pan American Highway—often a two lane undivided ribbon that cuts across the striking geography of the Peruvian coast,” Baden said.

The exhibition was set up in Holden with three walls full of the photographs in plain frames to not distract from the stirring images. The beige walls and tiles of Holden Gallery seemed to complement the earthy tones of the desert imagery. The exhibition began with Baden’s description of the Peruvian desert and then transitioned to the first wall where a series of photographs were presented in a timeline of sorts.

This first series of images were actually two images laid on top of one another. The first photo was of a stark desert with abandoned shacks laid on top of the desert image. As the photos carried on across the wall the images merged together where telephone poles and towns shifted into long stretches of flat yellow dessert and jagged mountains emerged in the background.

As the series of photos continued on the first wall the overall tone shifts from desert beige to the darkest image where thunderclouds crashed into deep mountains. The haziness of the first series of photos makes one wonder which is real. Which is important and which should be focused on? This mixture of two images and transition of light to dark creates a sense of ambiguity, as though it’s a forgotten memory.

As Baden puts it, these images are “situated between a distant past and a far future.”

On the next wall the photos were presented in two layers and these images were much sharper. They focused on close ups of rocks of different sizes and different areas of the desert. The next section focused on seemingly abandoned things in the desert such as wires, wood and bricks. A particularly stunning image was of a decrepit bed standing lonely with the mountains and an outhouse as its background. This image again seems to embody the themes of isolation and forgotten memories. One finds themself imagining who would have shared that bed and why it was left alone in the desert in the first place. There is no definite reason or cause for this image. It is jarring and sparse enough to allow the viewers to fall into an imagined story in their own minds of a time and a people gone by.

Baden's images were collected over four years as he travelled throughout Peru.

It was this sense of imagined isolation, silent beauty and passing time that Baden saw in an area that inspired him to create the “InBetween” Exhibition: “[There Are] hundreds, probably thousands, of broken boulders scattered across the sands—engraved with dots, undulating lines, serpents, llamas, human figures. Although remote and scarcely visited, the site had the visual vitality of a graphic novel and it reeked with the presence of passage—with the movement of people and of time.”

The last set of photographs in the exhibition moved from the utter flatness of the desert to particular rocks, to mountains and then back to the flat areas of the desert. The last section of photographs again went from lighter images to darker images. Many images were a blur of sky and mountain. It was this contrast between clarity and ambiguity that was the heart of the show.

Each image in “InBetween” allowed the viewer to focus in on a particular object while still being mystified by the overall landscape. There was no particular narrative or event to inspire these photos. Instead the images were snapshots of isolation that transported the viewer to a sparse desert where one could forget time, place and restrictions and imagine any story they wished. “InBetween” took the viewer to a place where nothing is defined and one can melt into the odd comfort of being neither here nor there.

Discussion

2 Responses to “The Beauty of Ambiguity”

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