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Issue Date: November 2011

Land Minds

Emma Sleva

Forests glow fluorescent and flower petals stretch in the otherworldly photographs of Cleveland artists Barry Underwood and Bruce Checefsky.

Both challenge traditional ideas of the landscape in the new Akron Art Museum exhibit SuperNatural, opening Oct. 29.

"We make twists or re-contextualize it," Underwood explains. "We rework it into something more contemporary and something that is uniquely our own."

Checefsky abandons his conventional camera in favor of a repurposed photo scanner. He removes the lid as well as the glass and replaces the original light source with a more powerful bulb. Leaving the insides exposed, Checefsky then takes the scanner into his garden.

"I don't place the flowers on the scanner; I place the scanner in the flowers," he explains.

The lens moves against and around the flowers, producing both vivid and blurred surfaces within the same photograph.

"There's something about the way the scanner captures nature that's remarkable," Checefsky says. "A direct camera would flatten the image. The scanner tends to animate it."

Underwood's method includes glow sticks and even high-powered LED systems to create the shapes that illuminate the mountains, rivers and fields in his long-exposure photographs.

When creating these surreal displays outdoors, Underwood pays attention to atmospheric changes, light pollution and difficult terrain. "I'm reacting to an environment that is already existing," he says.

The exhibition is about more than just light or the landscape. It underlines the power of the constructed image — a concept Underwood and Checefsky studied together at the Cranbrook Academy of Art.

"It's really about the way the mind interprets an image," Underwood stresses. "It's about the way we as a culture read images and how we are influenced by them."


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