I first met Ansley West Rivers years ago when I showed a selection of her images at my gallery. She moved from Atlanta shortly after that, and fast-forward over four years, the closing of the gallery, and a move back to the area, we met again at the Atlanta Celebrates Photography portfolio review this month. Ansley has a gift of creating visually beautiful images that address not-so-beautiful environmental issues. Seven Rivers (still in progress) showcases that talent to the fullest. All of the images are created in-camera to create a layered effect that shows both the current state of the river and also alludes to future consequences of unchecked threats to fresh water.
SEVEN RIVERS BY ANSLEY WEST RIVERS
I am creating a series of photographs on the watersheds of seven rivers, the Colorado, Missouri/Mississippi, Columbia, Rio Grande, Tuolumne, Altamaha and Hudson. The project looks at the complicated state of fresh water across the United States.
I recently moved from San Francisco, CA to Darien, GA, a small coastal town at the mouth of the Altamaha River. Leaving behind the dry and thirsty California coast for the lush, wet South was shocking to all my senses. This change instigated my investigation into the physical and psychological landscapes of rivers.
While still a resident of San Francisco, I made the 186-mile pilgrimage to Hetch Hetchy Valley to visit the Tuolumne River and the O’Shaughnessy Dam. I was immediately reminded of John Muir’s long battle against the damming of the valley. The battle for this river is the same in many ways as it was in the 1900s. We are on the brink of experiencing another loss as California’s water is disappearing, making 2014 the driest year on record.
The wet weather of the East Coast can be deceiving. My new home sits at the mouth of the Altamaha River where I view my water source daily. The Altamaha River does not carry the fame of the Tuolumne, as its beauty and name largely remain unknown but its struggles are common to all rivers. The Tuolumne and the Altamaha, like so many rivers across the world, are experiencing changes in water levels, temperature, wildlife and saltwater intrusion. The debate over water can only truly begin if we can connect ourselves to the rivers that sustain us.
The photographs are not aimed at documentation but rather the depiction of unseen changes occurring on all rivers. The constructed images I make on each negative show the possibilities and effects of industry, global warming, agriculture, power and the unquenchable demand for fresh water. We stand at a precipice in the history of water. How we approach the health and use of our rivers now will determine the life span of fresh water.
The project will create a portrait of the seven rivers that will depict the journey each river takes and the struggles bound to every drop of water.