As in much of his work, Geoff Delanoy makes both an artistic statement in his photography and a visual commentary on threats to so much of what we have too long taken for granted regarding the sustainability of quality of life on our planet. It’s not an optimistic viewpoint, as suggested by the title of his current exhibit at the Adkins Arboretum Visitors Center in Ridgely – “Ghost Forest.”
In the context of “Canary in the Mine” warnings of impending disaster, Delanoy’s cautionary tale in pictures might be called “Loblollies in the Marsh.”Delanoy, a professor who lives in Baltimore and chairs the Art Department of Notre Dame of Maryland University, became fascinated with the climate change vulnerability of low-lying coastal terrain while engaged in a decade-and-more photographic project called “Fugitive Landscapes.” Over just that stretch of time – milliseconds in geologic Earth time – Delanoy noticed even day-to-day changes in tides and landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore in Northern California, ultimately resulting in “Trees,” his black-and-white photography book.
That experience led him to explore similar, if not more immediately alarming, effects on coastal climes closer to home. He studied climate changes in the Chesapeake Bay, where previously habitable islands are being inundated and erased by high tides. “Ghost forests were a very visible manifestation of changes in the environment with sea-level changes.”
Delanoy tried color photography when beginning this project but changed his mind. He explains his artistic decision: “I found the cool earth tones of the shore’s landscape too peaceful and visually pleasing to convey the urgency of the climate crisis. The images have a more immediate impact in monochrome.”
No doubt climate-change deniers would excoriate Delanoy’s decision as leftist media manipulation. They ignore the fact that it’s pushing 80 degrees just before Election Day and Veterans Day and that the confused forsythia in my backyard is in bloom again. And that my wife suggested we turn on the air conditioning in November.
The black-and-white imagery in “Ghost Forest,” is quite persuasive, if repetitive. One of the most striking photographs is a stretch of paved road interrupted by a still reservoir of water reflecting cumulus clouds and, no doubt, blue skies above, which foreshadows a distant stand of pines. The peaceful scene of standing water where it should only be rushing past during rare stormy events documents what we’re in for,
The images are untitled, and the locations are not identified. This one appeared to be shot at the Blackwater National Refuge. But the road could well have been on Hoopers Island, where you can drive in at low tide but may be unable to leave at high tide. So much of marshy, low-lying Dorchester County is predicted to be just another part of the Chesapeake Bay within a generation.
Most of the other shots depict stands of dead pines, some of them loblollies, and oaks, that were essentially drowned and poisoned by the invasion of salt water. They stand in lines of dead wooden soldiers shorn of limbs. In one image, they lean or fall over across from an open tributary with an island of surviving-for-now pines. One shot captures a lonely tree, standing alone amid the marsh grass, bent over, as if prayerfully, by years of prevailing winds.
You can meet the artist Saturday, Nov. 12, at a reception at the Adkins center, a fitting location for this subject matter as it is surrounded by the arboretum grounds and the Tuckahoe State Park.
We give Delanoy the last word: “Trees bear witness to the landscape and communicate on a visceral level. Hopefully, the photographs strike a balance between the inherent beauty found in nature but also motivate us to change course with the great losses that we face because of climate change.”
Adkins Arboretum Visitors Center, 12610 Eveland Rd., Ridgely, through Dec. 23. Reception with artist Geoff Delanoy, 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. adkinsarboretum.org
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic now living in Easton.