Laura McPhee is a Boston-based artist and a professor at the Mass College of Art. In 2003, Laura McPhee was recipient of a grant that took her to the Sawtooth Mountains of central Idaho. Laura spent two years visiting and photographing a part of Idaho called Sawtooth Valley, population: about a hundred. Sawtooth Valley is the kind of place where snow is still on the ground in June, the first kid on the school bus may be the only kid on the school bus for 30 minutes, and 40,000 acres of forest can burn without ever touching a man-made structure.
William Stover (right), assistant curator of contemporary art at the MFA, said when he first saw Ms. McPhee's work, he knew her works must be shown at the MFA. This show is Laura McPhee's first exhibition at the MFA. In fact, it is her first major solo show in a museum anywhere.
The images are big...as big as Kodak's paper will allow. The images are also stunning in detail...as can be when an 8x10 view camera is in skilled hands. The images are full of beauty and emotions, with a leaning toward sadness, but also of hope.
In the photograph above, what appears to be a woman out in a field at day break is actually a biologist gathering data. She still in her nightgonw, in her front yard, taking early morning readings of radio-collared wolves. The wolves, once hunted almost to extinction, have been making steady progress in being reintroduced to this land. The number of wolves in this area is now a point of contention with some of the residents. This is exactly the kind of "tension" one finds in many of the back stories of the images in this exhibit.
The best way to enjoy this exhibit is to take two passes at the images. First, just look at the images, don't read the titles. Enjoy their scale and their composition. Let them evoke whatever notions/emotions you have about "big sky" country.
Then, go through the exhibit again, and this time look at them in more detail. The viewer may be startled to find out what the image really is.
What may first appear to be a beautiful mist on a mountain lake is actually a cyanide evaporation pool from a mining operation. What looks like a hunter waiting for his prey is actually a biologist waiting to tranquilize a wolf so he can put on the radio-tracking collar.
Many of the images in this 40-piece exhibition offer the same contradiction of reality.
We highly encourage you to go see this exhibit when you are in Boston. Read the titles carefully; you may be very surprised at what you are really looking at.