Irene Imfeld’s landscape and nature-based imagery draws on aesthetic traditions from realism to minimalism. Always grounded in common reality and composed in camera, the pictures often abstract the ordinary through tonal alterations. Some subjects are more recognizable than others as, over time, her work has become more abstract. Even unmanipulated pieces show the everyday world as transcendent or strange, imbued with a sometimes ethereal, sometimes rough, beauty. The combination of digital technology and a longing for romanticism evokes the moment — and environment — in which we find ourselves. Her work is about the paradox of this co-existence as seen within the beautiful place it occupies.
I consider ambiguity in the world a meaningful way of considering existence. Employing photography’s natural specificity, I investigate the unclear meaning of the situations and objects pictured, and use it as a starting point for visual composition. This search through ambiguity is, paradoxically, as real as the physical things pictured.
My early work used landscape as a subject of contemplation or a metaphor for human experience, as well as for its own beauty. Over time my images have become unconfined in intent and form. From project to project, different subjects and techniques provide a slow, gradual way of working with interrelated ideas of connecting the outer world with the inner.
Photography as a visual art has always had a peculiar connection to the real world — to particular subjects, locations, and times. My intention is to explore depictions of reality (worth examining because they are real) while acknowledging the mysterious relationships of what I see in the world.
The Story of the Process
Beginning years ago with traditional landscape work, my photography always explored natural phenomena. Even when showing the built environment, I emphasized the effects of time and weathering, obstruction of light, and decay of structures. Since 2014 I’ve worked on abstract depictions of the world.
By abstracting, I allow images freedom of reference and interpretation. I’m searching for their ability to be seen and reacted to as artworks without dwelling on what is shown and where it is. Pictorial elements and the use of motion can resemble the use of line and shape in painting. Very dark earthtones can be changed into washes of white. This shows a subject in a way that is true but different from what we usually observe.
In 2014, I completed 22 images for the Vacant Nests series. I had collected scans of birds and eggs as my pet finches died over several years. When Vacant Nests was finished I realized that these prints, showing close detail, unconventional orientation, and black backgrounds, were somewhat abstract.
Soon after, abstract concepts emerged through carefully considering compositions I was consistently drawn to. I began to alter color values to find something new in the imagery. The result was Nothing, in the World, my first intentionally abstract series. It used existing images from previous landscape work as source material and it concerned nature in general.
The next project, Zone of Transformation: Nature in the High Desert, was completed in 2015 working at an artist residency in the Mojave Desert. The series shows a liminal environment where identity can be difficult to ascribe, in the transition zone between depiction and abstraction. This was the first time I deliberately captured images in camera to change later in the studio. The resulting series offers an unexpected view of the desert environment, abstracted but still about the place.
In 2016 and 2017, I worked intensively to advance this abstract vision. I also returned to the handmade book craft with a two-volume set of the Strangeness of Seeing project which examines the use of detail in visual art. These images are more conventionally oriented, relying largely on tonal alterations for their impact. The last image made for Strangeness of Seeing set off in another direction by combining two similar exposures.
2017 culminated in the series, Phantasm: Autumn in the Kentucky Woods, produced at a residency near Louisville. Here I freely mixed multiple exposures with color adjustments. Phantasm is a counterpoint to Zone of Transformation, contrasting the Eastern forests with Western desert.
My abstracting process causes a reduction of recognition but not of complexity.