If but a sunbeam strikes too warm

Melanie Flood Projects is pleased to announce 'If but a sunbeam strikes too warm' a group exhibition of photographic work by Teresa Christiansen, Anne Hall, Sarah Meadows and Kate Steciw. Using photography as a common language, each artist turns to the subject of the natural world remarking upon humanity’s continuing urge to capture and contain. The show will open Friday, October 12 and run through December 15, with an artist reception held on Sunday October 14 from 11am to 1pm.

Peering at the inky black surface of a Claude glass, an 18th century artist could transform the world into a hazy tableau fit for the canvases of the Italian painter Claude Lorrain. But why not simply look at the trees and mountains themselves? This intermediary provides an altered view, one which reflects back at us, heightening our interaction with nature’s incomprehensible largess. A view that fills the void of language, the flatness of a painting, or a hand painted postcard. The advent of the photograph brought a scientific mode to capture visual traces of our world, but there remained a yearning for a more emotive, nuanced approach. Pictorialists and their peers sought a way to create an image rather than capture it, obfuscating the line between the real and the doctored.

Approaching ideas of collective memory, Teresa Christiansen is intrigued by the cyclical act of taking pictures that look like those that came before. Pushing this recursivity, she re-photographs and reconstructs her own snapshots of everyday flora. Cutting, folding, and gluing added textures until the original images are fully dematerialized her reimagined landscapes present a complicated take on the overlooked bits of urban landscapes. Anne Hall takes a similarly analytical tact by pulling the photographic process apart to reveal its inner processes. Hall’s vibrant cyanotypes take form outdoors on her orchard in upstate New York. Her richly colored prints record imprints of leaves, plants, and other wild elements. Hall introduces a resist to create shapes and hard edges, to control and release light. The delicacy of silk allows light to shine through, creating a double sided image. 

Kate Steciw also utilizes her own travel snapshots, enlarged beyond life size. Steciw’s photograph of a wounded cactus points to the impulse of visitors to advertise their presence, as the marks of random names and initials are scarred deeply into the green flesh of the plant. Steciw further scores the picture plane with a thick digital brush stroke– mechanically carved into the image revealing the wall it’s hung upon. Sarah Meadows research looks at the curation of visual culture as it relates to the natural world. Combing through seed catalogs and gardening books, she is attracted to the ways nature is marketed and framed in a manner that is entirely unnatural. Neatly set in three window mats, images of apple varieties taken from a vintage fruit growing book are cut out by hand. The negative space of their perfect shapes are paired with a black and white reproduction of an a shiny holographic bird-repelling windsock, dangling in the sky. Viewing the internet as “terrain” to explore, Meadows appropriates imagery from web searches, re-photographing YouTube videos and her computer screen. The added layers of information–pixels, moire patterning, and colors mimics the mediated ways we interact with our environment.

Human beings constantly finesse the world around them to create the most accessible version of their surroundings. This is not the beautiful, nor is it in line with the awe and majesty of the sublime. Instead, today’s prescribed modes of nature are more picturesque. William Gilpin, who coined the term, noted that the beautiful are “those which please the eye in their natural state”, but that the picturesque “please from some quality capable of being illustrated in painting”. Replace painting with photographic image and we can easily talk about the ways in which a scientific process can be distorted, modified, and edited by the person behind the lens. Certainly this plant, animal, person or stone is pleasant to gaze upon, but can you get a good picture of it? If but a sunbeam strikes too warm asks not how we depict nature, but how we experience it through photography and otherwise.

Text by Melanie Flood & Graham Bell


Teresa Christiansen was born and raised in New York City and currently lives in Portland, OR where she is Head of the Photography Department at Pacific Northwest College of Art. Teresa received her MFA in photographic studies from ICP-Bard in 2008, and worked as an Assistant Photographer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for nine years. She has exhibited her work nationally, including New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and Portland. Recently she has shown work at Aperture Gallery and chashama in NYC, the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle and the Portland Art Museum. She was a 2007 winner of PDN Photo Annual, a 2013 Regional Arts & Culture Council grant recipient and a summer 2014 Wassaic Artist Resident. Her work is in the collection of the Portland Art Museum.

Anne Hall is an artist living and working in a very old house in Upstate NY. Over the past 15 years her photographs have gone through many evolutions from magical tableaux-style works of girls and horses to electrifying black and white infrared pictures of humans who identify as animals to snapshots excerpted from a series of team-building workshops inspired by DIY religious movements.  Around 2010 she started playing around with the messy roots of early photographic processes in a search for something visceral and vital.  These new cyanotypes are a product of that inquiry. On offer is a fresh relationship to a tidy medium. Her work has been exhibited in galleries, fairs and museums in the US, Europe and Asia. She received her MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006.  

Sarah Meadows is an Oregon-based visual artist. She received her MFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2016 and her BFA in Photography from Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2008. She also holds a BA from the Evergreen State College and has studied internationally at the Glasgow School of Art. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, most recently at Clamp Art (NYC), Charles Hartman Fine Art (Portland) and Filter Photo (Chicago). Her work is published by Publication Studio and has been featured in Humble Arts Foundation's Group Show. She has recently been an artist in residence at Hewnoaks Artist Colony and The Wassaic Project.

Kate Steciw is an artist living and working in Upstate New York. She received a BA from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography. She shows with Higher Pictures Gallery in New York, Brand New Gallery in Milan and Galerie Cristophe Gaillard in Paris. Steciw’s works examine the physical potentials of photography in the digital age.