When photographer Liz Donadio proposed her idea for an artist’s residency at Adkins Arboretum in 2019, she had no idea that the COVID shutdown would allow her to spend the next year and a half exploring and photographing this 400-acre nature preserve. On Site, the resulting exhibit of digital and alternative photography, is on view through Dec. 23 in the Arboretum Visitor’s Center. There will be a reception to meet the artist on Sat., Nov. 13 from 3 to 5 p.m.
Supported by a Maryland State Arts Council Creativity Grant, Donadio made a visual study of the Arboretum’s landscapes, plants and behind-the-scenes details throughout the changing seasons. During that time, she proved herself to be something of an alchemist who deftly mingles many different photographic techniques. Interested in photography since high school, Donadio first learned traditional black-and-white and color photography and then, in college and graduate school, began expanding her range into digital techniques and alternative photography, including camera-less processes.
In August 2020, Donadio could be found outside the Adkins greenhouses peeling digital negatives away from photosensitive paper she had exposed to sunlight. The resulting vivid blue cyanotypes now spread across one long wall of the Arboretum’s gallery. Reproducing the pages of “Mrs. Lola Somers’ Plant Collection,’” a handmade book Donadio found in the Adkins library, there’s something magical about how these prints capture the fragile beauty of the native plants that Somers collected in Caroline County 60 to 100 years ago.
Using another technique that, like cyanotype, dates from the 19th century, Donadio created lumen prints by arranging plant material on photosensitive silver gelatin paper. Created onsite, they seem abstract at first glance, but closer inspection reveals them to be delicate, almost ghostly images of leaves, curving stems and seeds layered like memories.
“I made these lumen prints at sites all around Adkins from spring to summer to fall to winter, so it was all the different lights and plants and space,” she said. “I really enjoyed being able to come back to the same places and see how they changed each time.”
Another wall of the gallery is filled with colorful digital prints—not only of the Arboretum’s trees, meadows and water, but also of its buildings, equipment, beehives and library. Intermingled with them are haunting portraits of volunteers and staff printed as pinkish purple anthotypes in which Donadio employed native pokeweed in a photosensitive emulsion.
“Everything was about being here,” she said. “I ended up creating a portrait of the place, not just of the foliage and plants but also of the people and the structures. It really struck me how much is behind the scenes.”
Although she is based in Baltimore and teaches photography at Northern Virginia Community College, Donadio’s work can also be found on this side of the Bay in a multilayered video installation at the Academy Art Museum created in collaboration with video and sound artist Shannon Collis. On view Jan. 11 to March 6 as part of Moveable Image: Video Art by Collis/Donadio, Shala Miller and Rachel Schmidt, this exhibit explores the spatial possibilities of video art, highlighting contemporary works that go beyond the conventional rectangular screen.
While the Collis/Donadio video installation focuses the bodily experience of reemerging from the pandemic into the architectural environments of the city and suburbs, Donadio’s work at Adkins grew from her experience of the restorative quality of its natural landscapes.
“The original idea was to have the exhibit in November 2020,” she explained. “Then COVID happened, and Adkins became even more like a sanctuary. It was like an escape from the stress of what was happening in the world to be amongst the quiet and nature and think about how no matter what’s going on in the world, things are still growing, the seasons are still changing. We can rely on that.”
On Site is part of Adkins Arboretum’s ongoing exhibition series of work on natural themes by regional artists. It is on view through Dec. 23 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 protected] for gallery hours.
Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. For more information, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.