A Biography of a River
“Beauty is the convenient and traditional name of something which art and nature share, and which gives a fairly clear sense to the idea of quality of experience and change of consciousness. I am looking out of my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important. And, of course, this is something which we may also do deliberately: give attention to nature in order to clear our minds of selfish care. ”
— Iris Murdoch
By Murdoch’s definition, beauty is not a state of being, but rather a relationship between two objects. It is also subject to timing, revealing itself with the flap of a wing and the shift of an eye. This series, which captures a 3 mile section of the Flathead River from 1945 until 2015 (based on data collected by the Flathead Biological Research Station) explores the undulations of an untrammeled floodplain. On the ground, a floodplain landscape can be chaotic and confusing, with pockets of dense scrubby vegetation, stretches of barren river rocks, and eddies of debris. There are no scenic vistas and it is hard to take a photograph that captures the life and beauty of the space. The Everglades was the first national park to be created in order to protect a vital ecosystem, otherwise we often rely on grand vistas or distinct landforms to guide our conservation efforts. But this approach obviously has its limits: it ignores landscapes, often vital ones, that don’t appeal to our cursory glance, and is, at its core, human-centric. Maybe, like the slow food movement, we need a slow beauty movement. A movement encouraging us to see more and look less, a counterpoint to the commodification of landscapes on social media. Inspired by Murdoch’s thoughts on beauty as a moment in time, this series pairs the path of the river with monoprints of snow melting, the same process which feeds the Flathead River.