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From the Vault: Landscape photography and a video tour of RAiR Tonee Harbert

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Roswell Artist-in-Resident Tonee Harbert at his studio on the RAiR compound with some of his work.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Aubrey Hobart

Curator of Collections and Exhibitions

Roswell Museum and Art Center

The term “landscape photography” might bring to mind crisp and colorful images of epic mountain ranges and vast deserts, like those found in a nature magazine, but artist Tonee Harbert doesn’t focus on the pristine parts of the world. Instead, he photographs those places that people have touched and changed. Shooting images in black and white, Harbert uses the stark contrasts of that medium to add a dramatic majesty to everyday landscapes, like those found along highways and in suburban neighborhoods. His favorite camera is a cheap Diana model from the 1960s with a plastic lens that was originally marketed as an inexpensive novelty item. This lo-fi technology attracts him because the variety of blurring effects it creates lends his finished photos a dreamy, unreal quality.

While he’s been living in New Mexico, Harbert has turned his lens to places that were altered by humans and then abandoned. He has photographed telephone poles, billboards, silos and shacks, as well as tree stumps and metal objects that have been used for target practice. In this way, his work is reminiscent of still life paintings: Depicting things that were once rearranged by human hands, but now the people are gone and only the objects remain.

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In these days of social distancing, where we’re all taking shelter inside our homes, the streets, parks and neighborhoods of Roswell are coming to resemble the dreamlike, empty places of Harbert’s work. His is not a despairing vision, though. In Harbert’s photographs, we get the sense that nature is an active process under constant renewal, and rather than being left behind, these altered landscapes are just waiting for their next life to begin. We see anticipation rather than apocalypse. It’s a nice reminder in these trying times that — while nothing is permanent — change isn’t necessarily bad either, just different.

Harbert is part of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, and his exhibition, Through the Static and Distance, is currently hanging at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Though the museum has not yet reopened to the public, we are in talks with Harbert and the RAiR program to extend the run of his show to allow everyone to see it. In the meantime, images are available at his website: https://www.toneeharbert.com/#/through-the-static-and-distance, and he produced a video of the exhibit, which is also available online: at vimeo.com/407434082.

 

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