Photos capture polluted landscapes:
Portland Community College presents a display of 360-degree
images in conjunction with two photography conferences.


By Janet Goetze
The Oregonian, Thursday, February 24, 2005


If outdoor photography means spectacular scenery, Jonathan Long's work qualifies by description. But don't expect snow-covered mountains or verdant hillsides.

Long surrounds his viewers with the blight on Earth.

Long, 27, grew up camping and fishing in Idaho with his father, a landscape architect, and he knows the beauty of the outdoors. But while studying for a master of fine arts at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, he discovered a different kind of wilderness: pre-1970s strip-mining fields.

After trying to capture scenes in black and white photographs, color photographs and poster-size images, Long became frustrated that he couldn't convey the effect of standing on the acid-scarred soils near rust-filled streams that remain from strip mining done before environmental laws required cleanup.

Then he learned about a camera that rotates around a fixed point, producing a 360-degree view. The manufacturer, The Charles Hulcher Co. in Hampton, Va., lent him a camera.

Long's photographs of mined landscapes, measuring about 50 feet long and 50 inches wide, are on display through March 20 at the Northview Gallery on Portland Community College's Sylvania campus, 12000 S.W. 49th Ave.

The exhibit, which formed part of Long's thesis for the master of fine arts degree he received in 2003, is on display in conjunction with two national conferences in Portland. The Photolucida, an international gathering of photographers, gallery owners, publishers and collectors, will be March 12 to 16 in the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. The national conference of the Society for Photographic Education will be March 17 to 20 in the Hilton Portland.

Four of Long's negatives were digitized, then printed on color photograph paper with a Durst Lambda printer. They are laminated and mounted inside spiral structures set up in the gallery. Viewers stand in the middle of the structures, surrounded by views of blackened or sickly gray earth. Some of the land is bordered by brightly colored fall leaves on trees trying to reclaim the land and suck up its poisons. Other land has lines of stark, dead tree trunks.

Long said he created the outsize photographs to remind people that the decades-old wastelands continue to pollute waterways and blight surrounding areas. Even more shocking, he said, are some attempts to reclaim the land.

Instead of letting nature heal the scarred land with new seedlings that absorb chemicals, he said, some efforts have included bulldozing the reseeded shrubbery and churning recovering topsoil with deeper soil still carrying pollution.

"To repair the landscape, millions of dollars are needed," Long said. "And erasing any natural recovery that has taken place may inflict further harm."

The photographs are a record of what happens without environmental laws, he said, "so when our political leaders claim the policies and regulations are not needed, the photographs will indicate otherwise."

Long, a soft-spoken man who pushes neatly trimmed hair off his forehead when he talks, also has made environmental protection a focus of his current work. He is photographing scenes northeast of Idaho Falls around the Teton Dam, which disintegrated shortly after it was filled in 1976, releasing 300,000 acre-feet of water that flooded his hometown of Rexburg, Idaho, the surrounding farms and a 20-mile stretch of river canyon.

Although Long works with standard film and digital cameras, he also is exploring historical methods of producing photographs, he said.

He has studied painting, drawing and ceramics, but since he was a child, his medium has been photography. His mother, who recently retired as a mathematics professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, handed him the camera while they were traveling in England when he was 10.

"I've been running film through cameras ever since," he said.

Janet Goetze: 503-294-5917; janetgoetze@news.oregonian.com

 

 

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