Plant Life

The world would be a different place if photographer Carol V. Granger had her way. It would consist only of trees, grass, brush and bush, not a car or cubicle in sight. We’d inhabit the outdoors 24/7. Or humans might be banished entirely, leaving only the squat houses where we once lived. We might turn into leaves or to tree trunks in a remarkable transformation from human to plant.

In 26 large, digital black-and-white prints framed in thick Plexiglas, Granger brings into focus the lush foliage of picturesque places that she has called home: the “lakes country” of Minnesota, Michigan and the west coast of Florida. Granger travels to her sites on a fold-up bicycle and explores them with an aggressive eye. In frame after frame, the focal point is a weird shape of nature, and the background — an unfocused mélange of humble cottages — quietly takes up space. Granger calls her show Intimacy of a Place, yet at times the work suggests the presence of a predator.

The photographs here are so new that Granger hasn’t yet titled them; instead, they have file numbers. Immediately intriguing is the exotic tree in “Untitled-58.” On the surface of the tree (located in the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida), a hundred or so prickly points stand off the skin like tiny horns.

In “Untitled-5,” a giant aloe plant overwhelms the picture, filling two-thirds of the frame. It looks like a frozen explosion of elongated leaves. In the background looms a meager, ugly little yard, where a house with an air-conditioning unit and electrical wiring stands in sharp contrast to the natural landscape.

A quiet grace is evident in the beautiful paper birch tree in “Untitled-15.” Close up, it evokes the same sort of emotions as rubbing an open palm over the pages of an old book. Rolls of paper from the tree practically beg to be torn and peeled away. Dappled light decorates the bark like a spotted coat in barely discernible, shadowed shapes. The shadow of the tree itself lands on a patch of grass between it and a small, anonymous lodge behind.

In one instance, Granger’s adoration of nature practically subsumes her. In “Untitled-2,” the photographer stands within the foliage as if intruding or stalking; as a result, the viewer is swallowed by nature and nearly becomes a part of it. A house hides in the shadows, hanging pots fill the top of the frame, a thin branch vertically and randomly pierces the picture, and leaves dress the right-hand side of the frame. Interestingly, a clear glass bottle, out of focus, rests in the foreground. It’s as if Granger has stumbled upon some lost civilization.

Most mesmerizing is “Quad-48,” another picture from within Selby Botanical Gardens. For this image of an air plant, Granger joins four photos together. The air plant hangs down from the upper-left panel. Leaves mix into what resembles a ball of crab legs tied together and suspended in the air; trees and grass fill the rest of the frame. The photograph has a peculiar, humorous feeling.

Granger tells the Pitch that photography is her way of “participating more fully with the landscape.” She says, “It’s a way to shape it and take it with you.”

Because of that approach, a walk through the gallery becomes an isolated walk through a black-and-white place that we’ve never seen before.

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