A Photographer Captures Nature’s Fragility and the Unlikely Beauty of New Jersey’s Dismal Swamp

The latest works by American artist Bryan Graf are ethereal experiments in light and color, delicately evoking the aura of water and the splendor of late-afternoon light. You probably wouldn’t guess that some of these hauntingly beautiful images were captured at New Jersey’s Dismal Swamp.

Graf is a landscape photographer, in a sense, but his work goes deeper. In “The Sun Room,” his fifth solo exhibition at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, those landscapes include the polluted marshlands of his native state as well as the notoriously filthy Los Angeles River. Graf has long been drawn to landscapes that are abandoned or neglected—or, as he has said, those that are “determined by random dereliction, the discarded debris of our culture grafting itself into the landscape and nature refusing to stop doing its own work.”

But, as the show’s title suggests, the inspiration for his latest collection also includes an interior space. The titular sun room refers to the greenhouse-like structure Graf uses as a studio. It’s not just a place to work; it’s a functioning winter garden in which he cultivates plants throughout the cold, damp winter months.

Indeed, Graf’s passion for horticulture and his appreciation of the finer details of leaf and vine are evident throughout his oeuvre, including in cyanotype-like works such as Field Recording (Sun Room V) (2016) and Sun Room Canopy Debris V (2016). The process behind such works can’t be simply described. To create these otherworldly snapshots of the natural world, Graf uses a variety of pre- and post-production techniques and interventions. Sometimes, he exposes his film directly to natural light. Other times, he heavily manipulates the post-production process to emphasize light and shadow. It’s photography with an abstract edge: These are landscapes with dark beauty and an ominous, vaguely mysterious edge.

“I’ve come to see the camera as a sun room itself, a dark chamber that facilitates the generation of an image through the collection of light,” Graf has said. Eerie and lush, these deeply layered works are somehow simple in their dreamy beauty. The images, each born from the garden, feel like timely meditations on the fragility of the natural world.


—Bridget Gleeson


Bryan Graf: The Sun Room” is on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, Oct. 27–Dec. 3, 2016.

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