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Picturing Eden.

Essay by Deborah Klochko. Introduction by Alison Nordström. Numerous contributing photographers.
Steidl, Gottingen, 2006. 192 pp., 160 color illustrations, 8¾x11".

Over the course of the last five decades, American attitudes toward the natural world, and our place in it, have see-sawed drastically. The launch of the mid-20th-century environmental movement coincided with the rapid expansion of automobile-stoked suburban sprawl; nature worship swam into the mainstream alongside headlong consumption and disposability. Our desire to experience nature has led us to wilderness preservation and destination resorts, exotic game hunting reserves and ivory-billed woodpecker mania, ecotourism and volcanoes that erupt on a timetable. This checkered consciousness is neatly reflected in the George Eastman House exhibition Picturing Eden. The catalogue features an introductory essay by museum director Anthony Bannon, and an illuminating conversation between the show's curator, Deborah Klochko, fellow curator Merry Foresta, author Rebecca Solnit and professor of landscape architecture Louise Mozingo. Klochko has included the work of 37 artists, trying to capture the range of feelings that the Eden story evokes in us in the early 21st century. It's a generous guest list, featuring some well-known names, and many less familiar. Best of all, the show is truly global, with Europeans, Asians and New Zealanders represented, as well as the expected American points of view. Can nature ever be taken on its own terms by human beings? Some of the photographers are plainly of the opinion that human nature is nature, that we have an innate, intuitive need to identify with other forms of life. Others regard nature as a crawly miasma, filled with guts, bugs, pain and unknown threats. The garden, the human-decreed "natural" space, is an age-old, metaphorical battlefield, representing everything from the relationship between nature and culture, to spiritual fulfillment, to the separation from God. The various imagemakers use the garden as a backdrop for alienation, elegy and speculation about human hubris; interpretation is left very much up to us. PHIL HARRIS

This review was originally published in the Fall 2006 issue of the photo-eye Booklist. To learn more about the Booklist click here.
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