Art in Review
Mary Peck: Everglades: Time’s Discipline
Panoramic landscapes looking inland from the sea are the first few images in photographer Mary Peck’s lush and luminous series of portraits of Florida’s Everglades. The viewer heads from the ocean into a jungle of peat moss, towering cacti, cypresses, bromeliads, and marsh grasses. Here is the home of tree frogs, wigeons, alligators, crocodiles, panthers, and, according to Peck’s introduction to a recently published catalog, “at least forty-three kinds of mosquitos.”
Innumerable species inhabit the Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, but if they’re in Peck’s photographs — and, no doubt, they are — they are hidden from view by dense foliage or camouflaged and nearly indistinguishable from their surroundings. In Everglades: Time’s Discipline, the emphasis is on the beauty and enigma of place. “Before South Florida was developed,” she writes, “one continuous sheet of water covered the southern half of the Florida Peninsula.” Less than half of what existed before development now remains as a protected national park.
Peck’s photo project began in the 1980s. The images are all black-and-white gelatin silver prints that reveal an alternately foreboding and alluring world of shimmering light and dark shadows. Like Santa Fe-based photographer Joan Myers, Peck takes her camera to some of the world’s more exotic locales — the temples of Greece, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, or the Florida Everglades — drawn to the endurance of mysteries that persist even when threatened by inevitable change.
The orientation of the prints on exhibit at Phil Space is horizontal. They reveal not just close-ups of the Everglades flora but a chorus of details that fill the frame from one side to the other. Cypress Knees, shot in 1991, is a beguiling image of squat but hulking forms rising from the swamp. The white flowers of Moonvine (1986), one of the first images in the show, are an inviting but alien introduction to this prehistoric landscape. Her photograph Sweetwater Slough, a symmetrical composition bisected by a waterway banked on both sides by forest, is an invitation to venture even deeper into a shadow-dominated world of vegetation. Most of us never see such places, where navigation is difficult and there are no roads. Author William deBuys wrote the catalog’s accompanying essay, titled “Everglades: The Beautiful Rebuke.” Despite being threatened, this region thrums with life and persists on its own momentum.
As still and quiet as Peck’s images are, the reality is that the environment of the Everglades is a cacophony of sound, filled with the cries of birds and the buzz of insects. What Peck reveals is a world in a natural state, and it’s a pity that this wilderness seems to be such a rare thing in our time. DeBuys lists some of the threats to this fragile ecosystem, including rising