Art in Re­view

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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

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