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Laura McPhee: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the photograph used on the museum handout for Laura McPhee's recent exhibition, smoky rays of sunlight stream into dense forest as fire licks at the roots of trees in the center of the frame. In the foreground, more sunlight illuminates underbrush while branches to the upper right and left almost touch the lens, creating a path for the eye that seems to lead a hundred feet deep. The highly theatrical composition resembles nothing so much as a picture by Gregory Crewdson Gregory Crewdson (born September 26 1962) is an American photographer who is best known for elaborately staged, surreal scenes of American homes and neighborhoods.

Crewdson was born in Park Slope, a neighborhood in Brooklyn.
, and when one realizes that Understory un·der·sto·ry  
An underlying layer of vegetation, especially the plants that grow beneath a forest's canopy.
 Flareups, Fourth of July Fourth of July, Independence Day, or July Fourth, U.S. holiday, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Celebration of it began during the American Revolution.  Creek, Valley Road Wildfire, Custer County, Idaho Custer County is a county located in the U.S. state of Idaho. It was established in 1881. It was named for the General Custer Mine. As of the 2000 Census the county had a population of 4,342 (2005 estimate: 4,077) [1]. The county seat is Challis6. , 2005, is not staged, one has to wonder why it was treated so formally, so luxuriously, with such a sense of portent.

The wall text provides an answer--in format, technique, and subject matter, McPhee is referring to the nineteenth-century painters and photographers of the American landscape. McPhee's choice of large-format, unretouched prints nods to the (very) old school, and her presentation of them at such large scale references the work of Albert Bierstadt Albert Bierstadt (January 7 1830 - February 18 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his large, detailed landscapes of the American West. In obtaining the subject matter for these works, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion.  and friends. But neither tactic succeeds beyond simply helping make serviceable depictions of the obvious--that the West is full of contrasts--seem a few degrees more delicious. Despite her claims to a less romantic eye--she portrays, for example, a cyanide-evaporation pool at a mine, a settler's cabin from the 1920s just down the slope from a recent housing development designed to look like log cabins, and endangered salmon at a fish hatchery--her West is just as thoroughly aestheticized as that of her nineteenth-century referents.


Surprisingly, there is little relationship here to the recently much discussed American roadster photographers of the '70s, who were the first to use color in Verb 1. color in - add color to; "The child colored the drawings"; "Fall colored the trees"; "colorize black and white film"
color, colorise, colorize, colour in, colourise, colourize, colour
 fine-art photography and to trace their roving landscaper impulses and taste for large-format plates to figures like William Henry Jackson
See Honoré Jackson for the Canadian revolutionary.

William Henry Jackson (April 41843 - June 301942) was an American painter, photographer and explorer famous for his images of the American West.
. Little indicates that McPhee has learned from their example how to depict ugly America without too much attitude: Her inability to resist using a model-beautiful local girl, while an interestingly old-fashioned impulse, produces a very contemporary hint of Abercrombie and Fitch.) And rather than start from the baseline idea that all landscape is human, she sticks primarily to the depiction of binaries (old and new, rural and industrial, etc.).

Two pictures in the show highlighted, for opposite reasons, the problems presented by the rest. In Skinned Elk, White Cloud Mountains, Idaho, 2004, one of a trio of shots of a gutted elk bloodying a snowy forest clearing, a mess of boot prints in the picture's lower right generates a surprising sense of texture and human presence. Here, McPhee abandons her own standards of beauty to positive effect. In another, Igloo igloo (ĭg`l) [Inuit,=house]. The Eskimos traditionally had three types of houses.  Built from Downloaded Plans, Park Creek, Custer County, Idaho, March, 2005, a small, lopsided igloo lit from the inside glows against a nocturnal landscape--a funny, found moment of outer space on earth that begs for, and receives, all the benefits of McPhee's technical and aesthetic skill. These two prints suggest that McPhee has ways and means WAYS AND MEANS. In legislative assemblies there is usually appointed a committee whose duties are to inquire into, and propose to the house, the ways and means to be adopted to raise funds for the use of the government. This body is called the committee of ways and means.  of portraying the normal, the strange, and the vast territory in between without sealing them completely away from us under a perfect skin or overstating a quality of mystery that's already there.
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Author:Harris, Larissa
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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