Bayou’s End, A Gallery for Fine Photography’s exhibition of photographs by Ben Depp, captures the landscape of Southern Louisiana from a new perspective, emphasizing the alien beauty of this rapidly changing ecosystem. Almost as fascinating as the images themselves is the technique by which they are taken. Depp uses a motor-powered paraglider to fly over the swamps of South Louisiana for hours at a time, from heights between 10 and 2,000 feet, searching for surprising and unique compositions to photograph. The ingenuity required to make these photographs is not always apparent in the images themselves, which are often serene and meditative. Depp must navigate changing wind conditions and avoid obstacles, being careful not to drop his camera or to be dropped himself, often while flying mere feet above the water's surface. The erosion of Louisiana’s wetlands has been discussed thoroughly across several media – it is a testament to Depp’s creative vision and dedication that his images manage to contribute meaningfully to the ongoing dialogue on Louisiana’s wetland loss while simultaneously transcending this context.
Most aerial photographs of Louisiana’s wetlands have been taken from satellite, airplane, or drone; few capture the detail that brings this remarkable landscape to life. Depp’s paraglider technique, which he developed three years ago specifically to capture these images, lends the work a sense of awe and wonder. In Depp’s photographs, one can make out the different varieties of marsh grass that grow in an area, distinguish living cypress trees from those that have been killed by saltwater intrusion, or see the patterns made by sediment as it is carried through freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River. While gliding through the air, Depp searches for "visual cues" that point the viewer toward the landscape’s gradual destruction. The birds-eye perspective and incredible detail in his images prompt viewers to see and understand this landscape in new ways, and to reexamine their relationship to the environment that surrounds them.
Depp’s aerial images depict a world of strange beauty – dead trees float lifeless on the water’s surface, a Technicolor algae bloom swirls and bubbles like dish soap, and dawn fog hangs ghostlike over the cypress trees. Conversely, some images see Depp emphasizing "the spaces where the geometric patterns of human enterprise – canals, oil platforms, pipelines and roads – collide with nature's organic forms." Depp spends hours in the air, digital camera in hand, waiting for the brief moments when the first rays of sunlight mix with cool predawn light and illuminate strange shapes in the marsh grass, or when the light sculpts a dead tree laying on the water at sunset. Ironically, only by so wholly inserting himself into the process of his aerial image making does Depp achieve his goal of removing the photographer’s presence from the final image, creating compositions that viewers can “get lost in."
Ben Depp is a documentary photographer and National Geographic Explorer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Much of Ben’s work has centered on environmental issues; his environmental photography has been funded by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ford Foundation and the National Geographic Society. Depp’s aerial photography was a 2017 Communication Arts Annual winner, and has been published by Smithsonian Magazine, the Sierra Club, Audubon, and Louisiana Cultural Vistas.