Viewed in a gallery in a downtown San Francisco filled with techno-stimuli and holiday clatter, Debra Bloomfield’s contemplative photographs of the natural world appear almost otherworldly. “Wilderness” is the title and theme of her engrossing show. Containing works ranging from minimalist, meditative waterscapes to gracefully detailed forest scenes, it serves as an artist’s look at some stunning places and a conservationist’s call for their preservation.
Running through Jan. 31 at the Robert Koch Gallery, and coinciding with the release of Bloomfield’s same-titled monograph, “Wilderness” represents a five-year journey that, beginning in 2007, brought Bloomfield repeatedly to the remaining wildernesses of Northwest America and Southeast Alaska. Stirred by a raven’s caw, she became absorbed in these landscapes. With her camera, she captured not only their site-specific splendors, but the universal experience and significance of wilderness.
“These remote places unfold as templates for all wild sites, in all their mystery, sadness, complexity and promise of refuge,” Bloomfield says.
For Bloomfield, the artistic process involves deciding the general nature of her project and then letting the current and essence of the setting guide her: “I was focused on letting the landscape kind of eat me up,” she says.
She describes her images as the result of her emotional and intellectual responses to a landscape and to the “persistent crisis of land misuse.”
The exhibition contains about a dozen pigment prints, each measuring 30 or 40 inches square and reflecting Bloomfield’s artistic eye, appreciation of the landscape’s formal beauty, and desire to inspire discourse about why wilderness must be preserved.
Water fades into sky as quiet waves, lit seemingly sublimely, produce an encompassing calm in one poetic work. In another image, a thicket of forest trees suggests a pastel wonderland. Other images feature snow-dusted evergreens and mountain peaks, the latter forming a striking jagged skyline.
“Debra Bloomfield occupies a special place that has been largely reserved for male environmental photographers who have followed in the footsteps of Ansel Adams and the like,” states the Robert Koch Gallery.
Bloomfield’s “Wilderness” book also contains text by author Terry Tempest Williams and a CD of sounds of the wild. Bloomfield has dedicated the book to Margaret Murie, the adventurer, naturalist and instrumental voice behind the passage of the Wilderness Act.
Bloomfield, who lives in Berkeley, has photographed the nation’s landscapes for about 35 years. Her work is represented in collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
IF YOU GO
Debra Bloomfield: Wilderness
Where: Robert Koch Gallery, 49 Geary St., fifth floor, S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Jan. 31
Contact: (415) 421-0122, www.kochgallery.com
Note: Bloomfield appears at a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4.