79 Carla Anderson


Born Philadelphia, PA, 1943 / BFA, College for Creative Studies; MFA, Cranbrook Academy of Art / Lives in Royal Oak, MI

Striding smack into the dusty but revered genre of land and sea photography a few decades ago, Carla Anderson began her determined, protracted pursuit to record wondrous sites “seen with fresh eyes.” Undaunted by the preponderance of land- and seascape vistas produced by nineteenth century masters like William Henry Jackson, Gustave Le Gray, and Timothy O’Sullivan, she vowed to chronicle over-familiar scenes “in a way that made them unfamiliar.” Thus began Anderson’s quest to evolve a vision uniquely her own, little realizing at the time that the distinctive aesthetic she sought would not materialize until 2006.

Her sensibility, which she describes as a melding of “being rooted to the earth and letting go into light and color,” yields singular images that are “minute rather than an overview.” To discover such views, she has consistently and methodically maintained a peripatetic pace of weeks-long treks to both national and international locales that, most notably of late, have led her thrice to Iceland.

Long before such inspiring sojourns abroad, Anderson studied with Bill Rauhauser (1918-2017), celebrated Detroit street photographer and long-time teacher at College for Creative Studies. Subsequently, she too focused on black and white vernacular photography through the 1970s, featuring houses in downriver Detroit and a series of neighborhood doorways. Multiple viewing and shooting excursions down South followed, precipitated in part by William Agee and Walker Evans’s 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. In her series, Anderson aimed to document the imminent loss of the distinctive buildings, sites, and ethos of the South, as well as to capture the palpable effect of gauzy southern light. In the early nineties, she switched to color, in part to fix images as vividly on film as in her memory, producing such photos as State Highway 704, Stokes County, North Carolina (1997), one of a series of starkly frontal views of semi-derelict, photogenic structures (here, a patchwork quilt comes to mind) bathed in an aura of silvery light.

In the course of subsequent expeditions to the American Southwest to confront the much recorded, hallowed terrain of the romantic sublime (sky-scraping mountains, plunging valleys, and the brinkmanship of a cliff’s edge vantage point), Anderson determined to “look downward and avoid the horizon line,” in part to camouflage where she was standing and what direction she might be looking. For her, the eureka photograph, taken as usual with a large format camera mounted on a tripod, is Bonneville Salt Flats, Tooele County, Utah of 2006. Here, the gray-brown sweep of flats, water, mud, and sky coheres as a singular, blended chromatic entity in which a partly cloudy sky is reflected in the water below and the palest and thinnest-of-thin horizon lines reinforces the shallow spatial field.

In Valley of Fire, Nevada (2014) a grid of red sandstone squares that skews diagonally across the surface may read both as horizontal ground plain and cliff face, emphatically shunning a horizon and suspending, rather than grounding, the spectator in a color field of ruddy red. A similar effect occurs in West Fjords 4, Iceland (2016) where the cloudy overcast transforms reflective water into a gray monochrome. Its larger-than-usual scale, at 44 x 52,” overwhelms the spectator in a tonalist haze. Anderson’s occasional interest in augmenting the impact of individual pictures is also apparent in a series of diptychs in which images from different shoots and different countries may be joined together to suggest a global consonance between divergent sites, as in State Highway 321, San Juan County, New Mexico (2014, left) and Stukkshes, Iceland (2012, right), linked as they are by darkling hues and tactile textures of sand and rock.

A culmination of sorts occurs in a recent group of brimming, edge-to-edge glimpses of Lakes Huron and Superior from 2017: Lake Huron, Alpena, Michigan and Lake Superior #2, Marquette County, Michigan. Now photographing digitally, Anderson distills the rhythmic motion of these boundary-free, ceaselessly undulating depths of burnished blue. Neither mirror-calm nor churning and tempestuous, their weight and tacit power is nevertheless sensed and felt. Glints of light and sparkling reflections skip across the restless surfaces that, seemingly free of human interference or presence, roll on and on.

Dennis Alan Nawrocki, September 2017

Copyright Essay’d 2017