Surveying The Farmland

American Landscape Photographs by Andrew Buck at the University of Rhode Island Photography Gallery

Rhode Island Roads, 11/2005

Connecticut based Andrew Buck is a thoughtful and highly accomplished interpreter of American farmland, landscape that he defines as fully responsive to the human presence. In this exhibition of powerful panoramic landscapes of Northwest Ohio horizons and tobacco fields and barns of the Connecticut River Valley, Buck’s black and white photographs involve us in an unimpeded freedom of genuine photographic vision, reaching abstractly beyond our lived experience. His is a photographic gaze upon the farmland, and through his scanning that broad landscape he causes us to recognize land being inhabited, structured and organized for human use.

Alternatively, Buck is enthralled with the pure geometry of the man-made American barn and he composes images allowing his viewers to appreciate its humble yet majestic “signage”—its blocky, angular integrity as a pivot onto the agricultural landscape of America.

"My focus has always been the landscape," Buck Says "My use of the term ‘landscape’ is based in the writings of John Brinkerhoff Jackson. His use of the term went back to the source word, the German Landschaften, which referred to that which results when ‘man’ reconfigures and uses the land, in essence creating his own landscape on the natural landscape. Jackson, and others, have proposed using the term ‘cultural geography’ to refer to observing this aspect of the land."

As SURVEYING THE FARMLAND will attest, in many ways Andrew Buck deeply admires and pays homage to the influential American photographer Art Sinsabaugh (1924-1983). Sinsabaugh had revived the use but redirected the subject matter treated traditionally by the incredibly heavy and awkward “banquet” camera. Such cameras were previously associated with securing a broad yet detailed view of a scene such as a banquet or other large portraiture gathering.

Rejecting its associations with commemorative photography for large groups of people, Sinsabaugh directed his banquet camera toward landscape iconography and in the 1960s created now-legendary panoramic vistas of the Midwest. In this way he is remembered in photographic history for portraying the “subtle and nuanced poetry of the flatlands of America,” as critic James Yood has recently written. As Yood goes on to describe, “He also recognized its simultaneous great depth of field, that his eye was tugged in two directions at once: both parallel to the picture field, and into the distance, toward vistas in deep space many miles away. This is farmland, and the occasional distant vertical intrusion—a telephone pole, a farmhouse or barn—takes on a kind of poignancy and drama far out of proportion to its physical presence.” (Aperture magazine, no. 179, Summer, 2005, p.12).

Even more than Sinsabaugh’s, Buck’s images cultivate a sense of human intervention visible in the landscape and interpreted photographically with great sensitivity. Buck’s distinctive landscapes appear in always surprising ways to reference human design, whether in land reclamation projects for Ohio swampland yielding a magnificent “grid of ditches” or the evocative built structures of the tobacco farms of the Connecticut River Valley. In the latter case, rather than being agenda-driven and condemning the industry for political reasons, Buck’s tobacco farms become abstracted sites of human activity, from crop drying to production sheds. Buck is, refreshingly, always interested in landscape’s suggestiveness, in revealing evidence of the tenuous balance between “man” and nature and in revealing landscape’s formal values, rather than in lodging any obvious environmental or social protest.

Moreover, the thin horizontal panoramic photograph, which by definition collapses our “window” on the world, is Buck’s distinctive format. It conjoins elements near and far, left and periphery, as well as left and right, top and bottom. The apparently all-encompassing format serves to establish unanticipated correspondences on a number of levels both in form and content. Viewers will be excited to discover the ability of the panorama to convey the artist’s vision of the American farmland, and its special accents and rhythms.

Andrew Buck, born in New Haven, Connecticut, has been active as a practicing photographer and promoter of photography for 30 years. He was a founding (early 1970s) Board member of the important LightWork, Syracuse, New York, with a precocious solo exhibition there in 1973, after completing his studies from Syracuse University with a double major in Architecture and Fine Arts. LightWork is a unique and ongoing forum for support of photographers, providing for production facilities, publications of books and prints as well as an artist-in-residence program, the results of which contribute to its permanent collection. Buck has lived and worked in Western Massachusetts, Syracuse, and Farmington, Connecticut.

He has shown widely and garnered several awards, among them, in 1995, the highly competitive Connecticut Commission on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship. Andrew Buck has also curated photography exhibitions on the theme of Connecticut landscape, a cultural geography near and dear to him.