The Southwestern United States has always been the setting for dreams. Pioneers and prospectors, engineers and industrialists, orange- and oil farmers, filmmakers and photographers: they made the trek west to seek their fortune. A few succeeded, millions stranded prematurely. Every attempt left new marks in this mythical landscape spanning from the Pacific Ocean to the mountain tops of Sierra Nevada down to the Mojave Desert .
In 1999 the Dutch photographer Marie-José Jongerius (1970) left for Los Angeles with the mission to photograph writers, actors and directors. With each car ride to a new photoshoot her fascination grew with the relentless attempt by the Americans to control this Californian landscape. For over ten years she has photographed places where human imagination and the force of nature interact, from artificial lakes to the edge of the advancing desert. “Her photographs are not a simple dialectic of culture versus nature, but rather the interface where we can see something that is neither.” William L. Fox, 2015.
Culture versus nature is the topic of the seven large-format prints in “The Magic Tree”. In the pruning of the Californian landscape Jongerius uses trees as the mark of this battle. Displaying them as endearing rather than majestic, paying tribute to the resilience of nature. From the trees that lasted through the wrath of a forest fire, to the eucalyptus tree that sits on the edge of a lush green golf course overlooking the sparse desert below. What becomes apparent in these landscapes is the battle between ideals and the reality of the dessert. Import of foreign plant species that demand more water then native species resulted in a landscape that became dependent on man. This is were Jongerius’ images sit, between manmade innovations and the ever expanding desert.
Marie-José Jongerius (NL, 1970) studied photography at the Instituto Superiore della Photography in Rome (1990-1991), the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague (1992-1996), obtained her masters in Photography at AKV | St .Joost in Breda. She was a trainee at Dana Lixenberg in New York (1995) and did a masterclass with Rineke Dijkstra. Jongerius has exhibited at the Riverside Museum in Los Angeles, Centraal Museum Utrecht, The ADC Gallery New York and the Dutch Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.
Jongerius’ landscape work can be found in ‘Edges of the Experiment - The Making of the American Landscape’ (2015). This two-volume book includes historical research into how this landscape came about. Designed by Hans Gremmen and published by Fw: Books, the book was a finalist for the Dutch Design Awards 2015 and nominated for the book award during Les Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles. The book is available at the Ravestijn gallery, along with her earlier publications; ‘Sweetwater’ (2001), ‘Lunar Landscapes’ (2012) and ‘Concrete Wilderness’ (2014).
The exhibition was openend by Frits Gierstberg, curator at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam.
“These pictures break through ancient myths to show that the mythical struggle between man and nature still continues on a different level.”
“The scenery is wrong - Jongerius felt after being there a longer time. The scenery so green, so lush, so focused on ease of use and aesthetic enjoyment of man, how is that possible in such an extreme climate? She followed the water and visited places where the rigorous human interventions are visible. The places Marie-José Jongerius photographed, often at the edges of the buildings, no mans land, border areas - immediately showing who’s boss here: man or nature. [...] The places are easily identifiable, but Jongerius put an extra layer on the picture perfect postcards and film stills. She stepped back and photographed what tricks are necessary to preserve all this for the benefit of - well, of us.“
“Somewhere between the wonderful photographic work of Marie-José Jongerius and the precise design and research work of Hans Gremmen there exists a vacuum of intense curiosity that has no qualms with asking “why?” over and over again until its own peculiar hunger is satisfied. After that it’s your own hunger that has been awakened and left yearning for more.”