For as long as I can remember, I’ve been captivated by the tenuous relationship between humankind and the natural world. My early fascination with the ways we shape – and are shaped by – our interactions with natural environments informed and eventually became the focus of my photographic work. Most recently, I’ve explored these ideas by investigating the mechanics of our interactions with Tennessee’s largest tract of publicly held land – the Cherokee National Forest. I have dedicated three years to this inquiry, which has culminated in this body of work.
The federally managed Cherokee National Forest is set-aside for U.S. citizens to enjoy as a recreational outlet and to use as a commodity for the infrastructure of our consumerist nation. Evidence of the tension between commercial interests and the public’s statutory right to ‘enjoyment’ of the land can be found throughout the area. For me, the uneasy relationships between private and commercial notions of land ‘use’ emphasize the complexity of man’s broader impacts on the forest’s ancient and temperamental ecosystem. Amidst these relationships, I see comments on recreation, class in America and the unique role this natural setting plays in the communities of rural Appalachia, an area that has been misunderstood and maligned for generations. I want to describe this tense balance, and in doing so create a catalyst for thoughtful conversation around the expansive and elemental narrative between man and nature.
When elements align, the photographs create a complex stage where the landscape and cast of characters coalesce and vie for attention within the landscape of the Cherokee National Forest. The forest becomes a backdrop where human life is acting out a poetic form of wild living. The photographs continually show the dichotomous interaction we have with this wild space. Exchanges range from mediated and flawed to real and felt, and provide a springboard for further thought and contemplation on who we are as a people and the role of these environs in our complex society. Ultimately I hope they convey my sense that we should seek to better understand this mysterious relationship, and mend our tattered and egocentric affiliation with the wild.