Sometimes “reality” isn’t real. Such is the case in Dana Fritz's photographs in her “Views Removed” exhibition at the Lux Center for the Arts.
On first view — actually, every view — the 13 rectangular black-and-white gelatin silver prints appear to be photographs of landscapes.
Meticulously framed tree branches are seen hanging in just the right place above rock outcroppings, and an island is perfectly placed between two others in a seascape.
The photographs often have titles that describe their content. “Japanese Black Pine Glacier” is just that, a pine branch over a glacier, and in “Mountain Forest,” pines are below a snow-covered peak.
But none of those places are “real.”
The prints have been made using two or more negatives. The images are then constructed to be as visually appealing as possible, yet retain a sense of a natural landscape.
That is not the only manipulation in the photographs.
“The subjects I photographed are located in bonsai and suiseki collections, temple gardens, city parks, state and national parks and forests, artist residencies, historic landscapes, and my own yard (in Japan and the U.S.),” she wrote. “So the scale in the work is quite slippery from table-top size to mesa size.”
In other words, trust nothing you see in the images.
But, critically, none of the juxtapositions of images clash enough to make the photographs clearly “unreal,” nor are they easily seen as artificial constructions. The islands in the two “Matsushima” pieces, for example, appear to be smartly framed views of small offshore islands common near Asia.
So the photographs become idealized pictures — images that create a view of landscape and nature that is flawless, everything in the perfect place with the perfect contrast between elements, etc.
That’s been the case in photography for decades in which images are manipulated from negative or digital file to create the “perfect” picture.
But in “Views Removed,” Fritz takes that manipulation to another level, by using the negatives in the darkroom to create the artificial image and make the images environmental studies that appear natural.
In that regard, “Views Removed” connects directly with “Terraria Gigantica,” Fritz’s project to photograph three large man-made environments, including the Henry Doorly Zoo’s Lied Jungle.
In the images contained in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln photography professor's book, she created a juxtaposition of man-made and natural, while blurring the distinction between them. In so doing, she put a different kind of focus on the real versus the ideal — the real being impossible to truly reproduce in a man-made structure.
With “Views Removed,” she shifts the focus to the concept of an ideal landscape, an image so perfect that it can’t be “real.” But the photographs themselves are very real — and the images very appealing. They’re just not what they appear to be.