June 25, 2019 | Topics: featured artist
Hal Rammel is one of 12 artists participating in a year-long residency program called ARTservancy, a collaboration between Gallery 224 in Port Washington and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. Each artist has selected an OWLT preserve to spend time in and to engage with. To read more about the artist in residency program, click here.
Artist statement by Hal Rammel
As I’ve explored the prairie and woods of Hames Nature Preserve, cameras in hand, I consider myself a proponent of an idea posed by my favorite American photographer, Clarence John Laughlin: “the poetic lens of perception.” In other words, rather than viewing this property as a documentary or nature photographer, I’m most interested in discovering more personal points of view. What can I learn from my camera about this place or terrain? What does this camera observe that I haven’t been able to see?
It is the proximity to the Milwaukee River that most immediately caught my eye at the Hames Nature Preserve. Standing along its bank, the continual, minute-to-minute, season-to-season fluctuations of light from and through the river’s surface are mesmerizing. A camera can capture these subtle modulations in ways beyond our everyday observation: the river’s current; the shadows of tree limbs above, behind, and in front of me; the motion of clouds far above; the steady track of the sun from east to west during the course of a day.
I’m quite devoted to pinhole photography but the river’s orientation flowing west to east along the southern edge of the Hames Preserve made this part of the river very difficult to capture with a pinhole camera. For that reason, I have enjoyed exploring in Hames with a variety of film and digital cameras that I have overlooked in recent years (e.g. Holga, Chema Smena, Stereo Realist cameras) each with their own unique capabilities of capturing the light, the water, and the foliage.
Last fall I took many stereo photos of milkweed and other end-of-summer flora using a 35mm camera with a macro lens. Macro 3D stereo photography requires use of a slidebar to move the camera just slightly to left and right for true stereo images. I’ve been doing 3D photography with different cameras since the mid 1990s. It’s offers a wonderful way to ‘look closer’ at the details of natural forms and present these photographs in the uniquely vivid fashion of vintage stereoview card format. Stereo photography will be part of my contribution to the ARTservancy exhibition at Gallery 224, which is scheduled in the fall.
Here’s how stereo photography works: We see the world in three dimensions (stereo) because we have two eyes that are set approximately 2-1/2 inches apart. Our brains merge these two separate points of view into our three-dimensional experience of the world. Stereo photography simulates this phenomenon by taking two photos 2-1/2 inches apart and mounting these side-by-side to be viewed in a device, called a stereoscope, that makes it easier for the brain to merge the photos into a stereo view of the subject. Stereo photography was invented in the mid-1800s and was a very popular form of parlor entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Hames Preserve became inaccessible during the coldest winter months. After some of our snow and ice had melted I found the entire front acreage underwater. The flooding extended east into the woods to the farthest boundary of the preserve. When I returned a week or so later the water had retreated but there had apparently been a second flood as all the standing plant life had been flattened and a lot of debris, including large tree limbs, were left in its wake. Upon my next visit OWLT had done a controlled burn on this prairie to eliminate some of this debris and revive the prairie foliage for spring regrowth. It’s been an interesting part of this project to follow the life of this acreage over seasons that include such dramatic events.
On first approach, along Memorial Drive and Second Street, Hames Preserve introduces itself as a modest vacant prairie at the eastern edge of this small rural Wisconsin town. Past this acre or so of prairie lies a dense woodland with uneven terrain and no clear path through to its boundaries on the east or north.
Last fall, the Preserve’s most immediately distinguishing feature sat right outside its entrance as I turned off the road to park: to the right of a town fire hydrant there was a carefully crafted wooden stairway down into the river—about 6 solid pine steps with a perfect handrail to one side. Depending on the height of the river, which can vary quite dramatically week to week, several steps might be below water level. The sturdily constructed stairway offered a secure platform for my tripod. Behind and to the right of these steps as you face the river is a grand old willow tree of impressive girth. Thick bark and several splits signal its age and the hard times along this river during high water, ice, and winter winds.
A telephone pole stands near this willow, perhaps 30 feet high, on top of which sits a mailbox with the words “AIR MAIL” carefully lettered on one side. The flag is up on the other side indicating mail ready to be picked up. How long that letter may have been waiting in there is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps its postage stamp would be a mark of its age: 5 cents, 29 cents, 40 cents? Did someone mail that letter decades ago in anticipation of the USPS drone pickup and delivery that is likely in our future? These three markers—a stairway into the river, a willow tree set on a precipice of the river’s bank, and an unattainable mailbox—reside as a wonderfully amusing and welcoming presence to this unruly bit of landscape.
Hal Rammel is a Cedarburg-based visual artist and photographer who has explored a wide variety of camera-less and alternative process photography for many decades. His interest in stereoscopic photography began in the late 1990s and this work has included 35mm slides in Realist camera formats, pinhole photographs mounted in vintage stereoview card formats, and, most recently, studies in large format stereo imaging based on the work of British inventor Charles Wheatstone in the early 1800s. He is the studio coordinator for Studio 224 in Port Washington where he offers workshops on pinhole photography and other subjects. Hal Rammel’s work has been exhibited at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (Milwaukee), Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery (Chicago), Woodland Pattern Book Center (Milwaukee), Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (Milwaukee), the Cedarburg Art Museum, and the Carnegie Museum (Pittsburgh).
This is the latest is a series of featured artists in The Natural Realm, which is intended to showcase the work of photographers, artists, writers and other creative individuals in our community whose subjects or themes relate in some broad sense to nature, urban nature, people in nature, etc. To see a list of previously featured artists, click here. An exhibit of the work of ARTservancy artists in residence is scheduled to open at Gallery 224 on September 13, 2019.
All images courtesy of the artist, except as noted.