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Leah Beeferman: Approximations
Right now, I see this landscape (the lakes and hills around Kilpisjärvi, far northern Finland) reflected by visible light, a set of electromagnetic waves. The higher and lower frequencies of the spectrum pass by, unobservable. A version of the landscape takes form: one made of color, shape, size, density.
I look at the landscape and walk around, trying to keep track of its various aspects. There are many. Between 2:45 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., a fog blows in over the lake and changes colors several times before fading to white and the entire landscape disappears. Snow melts in the sun. The low-sloped land is covered in mid-sized rocks, and the rocks are covered in lichen of different colors. Wind blows in new weather and blows in new weather again.
Leah Beeferman, video still from “THE ELEMENTS”, digital video and animation with sound, 34:42, 2019-2020
Digital photographs capture the visible light from a particular area over a definable period of time. On their own, these pictures are views of my views. They capture the forms and colors of the landscape just enough to communicate what it is like, but without providing a real sense of space or an experience of the ever-shifting light and weather.
The more time I spend in Kilpisjärvi the more I understand what cannot be recorded by my camera. Still, the camera helps me to see; I learn as much about the landscape from these pictures and the forms they capture as I do from the hours spent in the landscape itself. The forms and colors on-screen are made from 16.7 million different combinations of red, green, and blue – more than double the roughly seven million colors that my eye can see. Yet, these digital forms stand in for the real forms and their subtle shades: plants, rocks, lichen, hills, lakes, sky.
So what happens to a landscape and its colors when they become digital? There is an inevitable loss of information, despite the quantity of color. The forms are flat, pixelated. They do not grow after it rains, or blow in the cold wind. But perhaps this loss of information follows other losses which have already taken place: the lost electromagnetic waves which pass by as the visible wavelengths (0.4-0.7 micrometers in length) hit my eyes or camera sensor; the loss of information when I stand in one place – or look in one direction – and not another; the loss of information that is inherent to any image, no matter how many pixels are present. These digital pictures – these approximated forms – carry momentary information about form, light, and color in a single rectangular region of a landscape. But they leave out almost everything else.
In the summer, in Kilpisjärvi, the sun does not set. In 2019, the sun rose on May 20, 2:11 a.m. and set on July 24, 1:16 a.m. One night in-between it was like sunset, but pale. A hard-to-place mix of many familiar times of day but none of them. A time of day which, if I woke up in it, I could not place.
How quickly or slowly the landscape dries after rain. Hilly landscapes cast shadows on themselves. Today the wind is strong: 21km/h from the west. The light, the shade, the wind on the rock. To understand the scale and nature of a place by moving through it.
There is information in these colors, these forms. In nature, properties of matter emerge via geological, chemical, and biological systems. These processes are guided by interactions of subatomic particles which compound one another, gradually building into forms visible to the human eye – and to a camera. But at the visible-light, human-eye, camera-scale of visibility, even nature becomes abstracted; what we see collides with what we have experienced, and the resulting “image” becomes our own, separate from the natural world. I take pictures around Kilpisjärvi – of matter, of form, of landscape – to communicate, investigate, remember. But what have I actually taken a picture of?
I draw out areas of my digital photographs to make visible my own perspectives and tendencies, and to allude to what cannot be seen. I layer them to combine multiple views on the same landscape, loosely mirroring my experience. My images are shaped approximations of Kilpisjärvi: a landscape which is, in turn, approximated by visible light and digital color. I imagine activity at scales and speeds I cannot perceive, and within electromagnetic waves I cannot receive. What is it like, this world of waves?
In the hills between the lakes, there is a shift; a suspension; a planetary pause. A planet means the elements are palpable; the systems at work are robust, present, active. Here the feeling is different, even if the landscape looks characteristically the same. A puzzle of sensory interpretation, identification; hold it, this pause. It is a space among the hills, a slight dip in the surface where everything around it rises: hills rise, rocks rise, the sky rises, space rises like a moment or a held breath. Sometimes wind blows through; today it was so still that it almost felt as if time was waiting for the wind. Snow melts in the sun. Water gathers and the earth absorbs the water and the sun melts the snow and dries the earth and the sun and water feed the plants and everything grows.
Leah Beeferman works with landscape through digital image-making, photography, video, text, and sound. Her work explores the relationships between observation and abstraction, natural and digital, physical and experiential.