Many photographers aim to capture events, or beautiful moments in time, with the help of a camera. Barry Underwood, however, opts to construct the moment itself. Combining elements of painting, photography, performance, cinema and land art, Underwood coaxes stories from landscapes as if they were hidden spirits waiting to be unleashed. His singular process raises questions about everything from light pollution to the conventions of theater, all the while blurring the line between nature and artifice.
Underwood's photographs resemble extraterrestrial sightings or electric hallucinations. Yet, in fact, each image is a record of a carefully staged performance, coordinated and archived by Underwood himself. "Everything starts from a drawing," Underwood explained to The Huffington Post. "Sometimes, I have an existing idea (as a drawing) and I look for a landscape that will fit that particular idea. Other times, when I am new to an environment, usually the first week or two on site on an artist residency is spent walking the locales, investigating the terrain, researching history and making location photographing."
For every new location Underwood photographs, he spends a significant period of time investigating, exploring and photographing the region until inspiration strikes. The history and particularities of each spot play a crucial role in plotting the corresponding visual event. Underwood then creates sketches based off his ideas, which later translate into a large-scale installation. The installations operate like theater sets, ranging from platforms that seem to hover in mid-air to clusters composed of hundreds of glow sticks or LED lights.
He then photographs the result. "The film is exposed for 15 minutes to six hours," Underwood explained, "depending upon the weather conditions, ambient lighting conditions and goal for the final results for the image."
Environmental awareness has never looked so trippy. Glowing blue orbs and bubbling red waterfalls add a supernatural touch to the already mystical landscapes, hinting ever so subtly at the impending consequences of technology and pollution. Yet instead of a moral lecture we get a supernatural fable whose beauty distracts us from any singular message.
Underwood likens his artistic perspective to that of science fiction. "In this genre, nature and civilization are not separate, neither are humans and the ways in which we interact with technology," he told Juxtapoz. "We are fundamentally tied to this planet. I think of the painting 'The Raft of the Medusa,' and how this can be a metaphor for all of humans. Technology is the raft and the sail. Though they are tools that can be utilized or exploited, we are inescapably at the mercy of the wind and tide."
Underwood's images offer an unsettling slant on idyllic landscape photography, visualizing the dangers of the natural world as a seductive, even beautiful possibility. In Underwood's words: "My attempt is to portray environmental issues that are not delivered in a heavy-handed way. Rather in a way that draws attention in a pleasing way, then if contemplated could unfold a message of dissidence or a natural discord."