Saturday, June 03, 2006

Laura McPhee's Photography of the American West

The exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, River of No Return, is certain to be a crowd pleaser. The label copy would lead one to believe that it was more provocative and controvertial than it really is. Rather than it being a shocker or providing a jolting experience, it conveys the natural beauty of central Idaho. The very large photographs are very clear and were not digitally made or tampered with. It features just what I would expect of the West; hunting, fishing, farming, mountains, mining, panning for gold, a wildfire, a Native American, and an eighth grade girl in many poses who never smiled. I didn't see the controversy. This is how some people live, work, and feed themselves in this rural area. It is easy for us city dwellers to be self righteous about our lifestyles, but we rarely have to worry where our next meal is coming from or how we could possibly scratch out a living when there are absolutely no jobs.

I loved the beautiful photographs and the respect with which Ms. McPhee treated her subjects. There were many pictures of a girl named Matte, one in which she wore her grandmother's wedding dress. No smile but such interesting and hard to read facial expressions. Matte had a deadpan look as she posed holding a large live turkey upside down. In another she held a bird by its wingtips. She also posed alone in her school bus. The genius of the picture was in the angle at which it was taken. The Sawtooth Mountains make a lovely backdrop for many of the pictures. It is an exhibit that I would like to see several times. Laura McPhee is a professor just a few blocks away at the Massachusetts College of Art. She made very good use of her two year sabbatical in Idaho.


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