The funny thing about Peggy Fleming’s stunning images of water is that she’s photographing something she can’t actually see. On view June 2 through July 31 at the Adkins Arboretum Visitor’s Center, the photos in her exhibit Water: Moving represent fleeting moments that only a camera can capture. There will be a reception on Sat., June 6 from 3 to 5 p.m. to meet the artist.
Whether it gently ripples, rushes or splashes, water is always in motion. Fleming’s camera freezes that movement, capturing exquisite patterns of color and reflections. Sometimes she’s exploring nothing but the reflections hovering on the surface of the water. Sometimes it seems as if she’s embracing the whole ecosystem of a river from its underwater plants and water-worn pebbles to the sunbeams fanning into astonishing patterns as they shine through its rushing water.
Exquisitely intricate patterns of rippling reflections fill four photographs taken in the exact same spot on a beach in Sardinia, Italy. A small stone shows up in the lower right of each, but otherwise they are totally different.
“There’s that much variety in the water coming in and out,” Fleming said. “When I click, I don’t know what I’ve got, and I like not knowing. It’s a surprise.”
Fleming began studying photography in 1988, when she was a park ranger specializing in botany in Washington, D.C., parks, a position she held for nearly 20 years. Her love of nature and travel is evident throughout this show of photographs taken in places as far flung as California, West Virginia, Canada, Italy and the Arabian Sea.
A keen observer of people as well, Fleming holds a master’s degree in anthropology from George Washington University and counts both water and people as her favorite subjects for photography. When photographing members of the Checker Club, a community of checkers players in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, she decided to learn about filmmaking so that she could better document their stories. She enrolled in a film program at American University that led to a film linking both of her interests.
Potomac: The River Runs Through Us will be shown at the Arboretum at 1 p.m. on Sun., June 14. Co-directed, produced and written by Fleming and Sean Furmage, this film follows the flow of the Potomac’s water from its origin in West Virginia, into homes and businesses in metropolitan Washington, and back to the river. There will be a discussion with Fleming following the screening.
Fleming takes a remarkable range of approaches to her photography and uses a variety of cameras, from conventional film cameras to an underwater HERO camera to her iPhone. While pebbles and underwater plants are clearly visible in shots taken of the Potomac’s waters, the sweeps of deep blue, green and red in “Aegean Sea #1” look almost like an abstract painting until you realize you’re seeing reflections of the hulls of boats. Most sparse and elegant of all the show’s works is “Full Moon on the Arabian Sea” with its four pale calligraphic squiggles of moonlight dancing like wisps of smoke along a long band of deep black.
Whether they are recognizable or abstract, boldly colored, nuanced or simply black and white, Fleming’s photographs are always filled with a sense of wonder. Caught in an instant too brief for a human eye to see, they speak about the infinities of changes we’re barely aware of as we move through our everyday lives.
This show is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view June 2 through July 31 at the Arboretum Visitor’s Center located at 12610 Eveland Road near Tuckahoe State Park in Ridgely. Contact the Arboretum at 410-634-2847, ext. 0 or email@example.com for gallery hours.