AN INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNAL OF THE IDEA AND PLACE THAT IS FLORIDA
Florida First Contact
Florida First Contact Residency - Atlantic Center for the Arts
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
September 19 – October 12, 2002
Andrew Cross (UK)
Torben Eskerod (Denmark)
Stephen Lawson (Scotland)
Elaine Ling (Canada)
Yuri Nagawara (Japan)
And 25 associates, including Sam Sweezy, Jim Vecchi, Marion Belanger, Barbara Bosworth, Susan E. Evans
The beginnings of Florida First Contact were both personal and intellectual. My own arrival to Florida in 1991 and the slow process of getting to know its unfamiliar land- sea- and sky-scapes may have been what led me to William Henry Jackson’s bewilderingly dull and clichéd images of South Florida. It seemed to me that Jackson was flummoxed by these dead flat, consistently green vistas, in which nothing—natural or manmade—resembled a cathedral. What would happen today, I wondered, if landscape photographers unfamiliar with our state were dropped here for a month to make pictures of everything and anything of interest?
The Atlantic Center for the Arts offered an excellent venue for such an experiment. A residency program noted for its outstanding architecture and its sensitivity to the natural environment, it provided beautiful and isolated surroundings for artists to work together in a specialized circumstance of mentoring that was a unique feature of the program. Our experiment ignored much of this. The usual distinctions between master artist and associate disappeared almost immediately as the group of nearly 30 photographers broke in to smaller car-sized groups to explore the land and cultures around them. This was also a real departure from the retreat aspects of the usual program, but the evenings found the place to be a lively home to return to for, in the words of the ACA mission, “coming together, sharing our work and ideas, and collaborating on projects.”
The residency was a great success in terms of connections made and projects begun, but plans for an exhibition were never realized. Now, some 13 years later, we present a small sample of the work made then by artists seeing Florida for the first time.
Alison Nordström, Curator
Marion Belanger has continued to study the Florida landscape since her 2002 ACA residency. She writes: “I read the Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean and then the Watson Trilogy by Peter Matthiessen. One book led to another, and I began to imagine the visceral feel of the place, the humid touch of the air, the oppressive heat. I had seen the Everglades from the plane – a dark nothingness at night, and by day a flat, often wet expanse of swampland, punctuated by agricultural fields and new housing developments. I was curious to experience the natural landscape, of course, but I was even more interested in the determined efforts of engineers, over many years, to eliminate the swamp – to drain it for sugarcane fields and development profit. This is the Everglades I photographed. To me it was the dark heart of the state.“ In 2007, she was Photographer Laureate of Tampa. Her book of photographs Everglades: Outside and Within was published in 2009. She holds an MFA from Yale and lives in Connecticut.
Noted photographer and naturalist, Barbara Bosworth is a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art, best known for her intensively researched projects on trees, birds, and the night sky. She is widely published and exhibited, most notably for Trees: National Champions and Natural Histories. She holds an MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology. Her Florida work, titled Elsewhere, considers sea and sky at the moment day turns to night.
Torben Eskerod is recognized as one of Denmark’s most important and innovative portrait artists but his longstanding interest in landscape is less well known. Coming to the ACA as a Master Artist led him to explore Florida’s back roads in a series of lush, wet, and disorienting images called Mapping. Eskerod is an independent practitioner who has studied at Aarhus School of Architecture and Fatamorgana School of Photography. He lives in Copenhagen.
Susan E. Evans
Susan E. Evans is known for a wide-range of experimental and conceptual photographic work including the two series she completed in Florida: Landscape Assessment and Landscaping. She was educated at Goddard College and Cornell, from which she received the MFA. She is a professor of art at Oakland University in Michigan where she lives.
Elaine Ling, a Master Artist during the ACA residency, was born in Hong Kong, but has lived in Toronto since the age of nine. She is best known for her minimalist depictions of such far-flung destinations as Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Burma, and Bhutan and her use of an 8 x 10 view camera in challenging environments. Like the work made in those places, Ling’s Florida work considers the relationships of humans with the natural environments they inhabit.
Sam Sweezy’s notable career as a photographer of architecture has been characterized by collaborations with art historians, anthropologists, and urban planners resulting in important bodies of work from Armenia, Panama, and Vietnam. His work in Florida concentrates on the built landscape and its commercial implications. Sweezy studied film at Boston University and lives in Massachusetts.
A dual US/ Italian citizen, Jim Vecchi has lived and worked extensively in California and Tuscany. He holds an MFA from Stanford University. His Florida work concentrated on the formal and imaginative aspects of humans at the water’s edge. He writes: "The First Contact residency in 2002 was my first opportunity to engage with Florida, my first opportunity to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste it. I was very struck by its complexity and by its ability to contain extreme opposites. Florida is beautiful/garish, lush/barren, modern/old, welcoming/off-putting, righteous/immoral, luxurious/destitute. Florida is a plural not a singular noun."