“The Enveloping Landscape”

Susan’s statement:

The Enveloping Landscape project began as a way to heal. Much like the Appalachian landscape itself, my body holds a map of multi-generational trauma. Too often expressed as violence against women, mirrored in our exploitation of the land, our history carries with it a shame so deep that it looms over our bodies like a curse. This shame, passed from one generation of women to the next, found its way to me. In 2016, under the weight of accumulated pain, my life imploded–inspiring a deep inquiry into the healing and redemptive power of nature. In need of help, I consulted environmental psychologists, ecologists, indigenous elders, poets, theologians, and somatic earth-based meditation and mindfulness practitioners. What emerged was a set of ritualistic practices that I used daily, for over a year, much like gestural prayers enacted as rituals before photographing.

Within a few months, two remarkable things happened. First, I had a radical, physiological change in vision. My eyesight expanded both horizontally and vertically, leaving me with a very wide circular view. I came to learn that our eyes are round, like all lenses, and the images they project onto our retinas are also spherical. Yet, trained in linearities, our minds almost immediately crop these images to fit into a rectangular and bounded view of the world. To honor my new way of seeing, I began constructing cameras that photograph round.

Secondly, and more importantly, this radical change in perspective altered the way I experienced myself within the natural world. No longer outside looking in, I found myself in the center of an enveloping landscape. From within these momentary experiences of belonging, which lasted anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours, I used my camera as a divining rod allowing it to guide me through the forest until something literally lit up, inviting me forward to photograph.

Was the forest actually stepping forward to meet me? I can’t know for sure. I have, though, come to know that photography is not so much an act of discovery, but a way of remembering a vital beauty that connects us, one to the other, when the world is seen through the eyes of the heart. Maybe our habits of perspective make it difficult for us to see the sovereign beauty of the natural world and the ground of being from which all love and healing emerges.

As this work finds its way into the world, it is my hope that these images contribute to an emerging conversation about environmental stewardship that shifts us ever further from the idea of the earth as a collection of resources that we protect, or not, for our selfish use, pleasure, and survival. Instead, may many more of us come to each plant and tree, and all biota, as essential parts of a living sovereign system worthy of our love, care, and protection.

Susan Patrice lives in Marshall, NC and is founder of Makers Circle, a non-profit residency, retreat and workshop center for photographers and makers where she teaches contemplative photography. Her photography and public installations focus primarily on the Southern landscape and its people and features intimate images that touch deeply into the questions of place and belonging.

Her website is susanpatrice.com.

Kent Krugh is a fine art photographer living in Cincinnati.

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