Joan Myers: Fresh Landscapes

By April Rapier

Joan Myers, Dallas Public Library, April 3 – May 24, 1985.
For two years, Joan Myers traveled in excess of 10,000 miles photographing the Santa Fe Trail with a 4x5 camera, funded by a NEA Survey Grant. The pictures form a becoming memory of what used to be an active commercial trade route from Missouri to New Mexico until the railroad took its place in 1880. Its history was rich and vibrant, and the picture leave an impression of more than a few ghosts rattling about, nodding their approval. With the exception of the portraits of people along the trail, which are comparatively uninspired, the images are fresh, not reliant on traditional concepts of beauty indigenous to desolate landscapes. There are even one or two atypical uses of large format camera, its righteous sharpness blissfully marred by an unsharp mid and background (“Wagon Mound, New Mexico, 1982). The photographs are well-considered, but still manage to maintain an edge of spontaneity. For example, in “Tecolote, New Mexico, 1982,” the subjects of the image, an old house, shed, and car are viewed through an unwieldy tangle of old fence posts and wire, a visual judgement that could have led, with the exclusion of the foreground layering, to much more ordinary image. The images are, to a certain extent, graphic and contrast, a welcome relief from the lyrical perfection usually associated with 4x5 landscape photography. “Round Mound, New Mexico, 1982” is a good example: that it is not so beautiful encourages one to explore it further.
Another interesting aspect of the series is a peculiar division of lane. In “Canoncito, New Mexico, 1981,” the foreground is dominated by an adoe wall tat forms a partial triangle shape; a large, rough-hewn cross rests inside, shaded. One also has visual access to the land beyond — crosses, telephone poles, and trees — finite but quite imposing. Details echo back and forth between planes (tree limbs, a crack in the wall).
In the image entitled “Doxey Mansion, New Mexico, 1983,” one sees part of an oddly misplaced Greek temple-like structure. It is a rich and decadent place, wit gnomes and a huge, empty fountain (particularly out of place in this desolate land of tumbleweeds and scrub brush). In the distance, tiny rows of determined fences keep the mountais at bay. An orderly storm approaches. Surely the places visited are somehow as changed — perhaps a bit more permanent — by Myers’s way of seeing as she was exhilarated by them.