ART BEAT: Long depicts shattering earth: By Emily Hinckley
Jonathan Long's master's thesis, “Pre-Law Wastelands: Abandoned Mine Lands of Southern Illinois,” has seen more than just library stacks. His compelling photographs have been exhibited in Illinois and Wyoming and are currently on display in the gallery at the Art Association.
Long, an Idaho native, received his Master's of Fine Arts in Cinema and Photography at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 2003. His thesis exhibition deals with a controversial topic – environmental policy, or lack thereof. Its serious subject matter contrasts sharply with the brightly-colored prints from Shark's Ink hanging just below at the Art Association.
The long panoramic-style photographs, made with a specialized camera that rotates 360 degrees around a fixed point, show abandoned coal mines that were active in the 1940s. In his artist's statement, Long writes, “in photographing these “Pre-Law” sites, it is my intention to remind the viewer how things were before the Clean Air act, the Clean Water act and other environmental protection laws were enacted.” The show “graphically demonstrates the importance of modern environmental laws in insuring that the nation's most valuable natural resources will be enjoyed by all future generations,” he continues.
The surprising thing about the exhibit is that the pictures are beautiful. You see crisp fall leaves and thick rolling clouds at first. It's not until you look closer that you realize the rust-colored spots on the dark landscape are probably the remnants of toxic chemicals used during coal extraction. The black surfaces begin to take the shape of scars, creating voids that occur at unnatural intervals. The trees struggle to thrive in the barren landscape.
But the exhibit also hints at a brighter future. The leaves are an indication that the area will recover, even if takes a long time and a lot of money. Then there's the book that accompanies the exhibit – “Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate” with essays by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy. It's filled with disturbing images, undeniable proof that human activity is taking a toll on the environment. But it's also an indication that people are becoming more aware of this dilemma and, hopefully, more proactive.
“Pre-Law Wastelands” will hang through April 13th in the loft gallery. Call 733-6379 or log on to www.jonlong.com to learn more about the show.
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