Photography Exhibits

The Eye Is a Door, an exhibit in progress.

The Eye Is a Door, the book and the exhibit, is about seeing as a way of knowing and photography as a way of thinking. To photograph mindfully is to open a door between what can be seen directly and what is hidden and can only be imagined.

Through photography, I discover what is there, visible and hidden. I want to understand why and how things come about and to imagine what they might become. The Eye Is a Door aims to open up a world for readers and viewers, to transform how they see the landscapes they live in and to invite them to use photography as a medium of discovery. I want to inspire others to see the extraordinary in the everyday, to pause and look deeply at the surface of things, and also beyond that surface to the stories landscapes tell, to the processes that shape human lives and communities, the earth, and the universe.

Landscapes speak to me. They are living and dynamic, not static, but full of dialogue and drama. I am drawn to photograph a landscape as one might photograph a person: to capture its distinctive spirit, to reveal its history, to show the contexts that shape it. There are no people in these photographs, but their traces and the stories they tell are everywhere: in the landforms they shape, the paths they make, the structures they build, the places they dwell.

This exhibit-in-progress has been supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Knowing Where to Stand: Photographs by Anne Whiston Spirn.

September 22, 2003 - January 30, 2004 MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts. November 10 - December 18, 2004 Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.

Photography is to seeing what poetry is to writing: a way of thinking, a disciplined practice that may produce insight, a condensed telling. To develop a way of seeing is akin to finding a voice.

Deciding where to point the camera, where to stand, I choose subject and stance. Framing the image, I place the threshold and shape the view, bringing certain features into dialogue, excluding others. I focus the lens, set its aperture and speed, determining what should be sharp, what to blur, what should be brightly lit, in deep shadow.

To photograph mindfully, is to focus, to see what is right under your nose. Editing images means culling, choosing a few for further study and refinement. Printing, I attend to tone, color, line, rhythm, shades of meaning and sometimes find in the image things I did not know.

The whole process, from first look to final print, tunes my eye and changes how and what I see. If I am fortunate, the world appears fresh and I know where to stand.

The exhibit consists of forty-three photographs framed in standard sizes (30” x 40” and 20” x 24”) with plexiglass and is designed to travel. For a list of photographs and dimensions, follow the link below to visit the online exhibit.

The exhibit was supported by grants from the Council for the Arts at MIT, the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania Faculty Research Foundation.


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Looking at Landscape: Environmental Puzzles from Three Photographers.

April 2006-January 2007, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge, Massachusetts. April-May 2007, New York Hall of Science, New York, New York.

This exhibition is an invitation to look: to see puzzles in the natural and the built environment, to discover clues. One by one, in pairs and groups, viewed as a whole, the photographs assembled here tell stories about how and why landscapes are formed, inhabited, abandoned, and transformed. They pose questions: What is this landscape? How did it come to be? What does it mean? What will happen next? Close observation helps to refine the questions, reveals some answers, and raises further questions.

Each photographer chooses a different point of departure. Anne Whiston Spirn focuses on significant details -- patterns of structure, shape, and color -- as clues to deciphering the processes that shape landscapes of garden and region, of the Earth itself.

Camilo Jose Vergara records the progressive decay and intermittent regeneration of post-industrial American cities, their buildings, streets, and neighborhoods. He uses his camera to document and understand these urban landscapes, the social and political forces that shape them, and the impact on those who live there.

In an airplane, hundreds of feet above the ground, Alex MacLean searches for stories writ large. He finds them in pathways, gateways, boundaries, and the territories they define.

Close observation, a hallmark of research in natural history, is just as important in everyday life. To look at landscape in terms of the processes that shape them is to see in the present artifacts of the past and portents of the future. To see is to know, to know is to recognize, and to recognize is to be moved, perhaps to act.

Angle of Repose

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Anne Whiston Spirn: Landscapes.

April-May 2002, Aucocisco Gallery, Portland, Maine.


Anne Whiston Spirn: Photographs.

October-November 2000, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.


Urban Insights.

April-May 2005, Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

Twelve artists provided diverse perspectives on the look and feel of city life and on related issues, such as urban development and local identity. Six of the artists were from Kamloops and others were from beyond the region, including painters Eleanor Bond from Montreal and Constant Nieuwenhuys from the Netherlands.

I was asked to contribute photographs that I had made of Kamloops neighborhoods. Landscapes are full of stories, from epics to folk tales, and those of Kamloops are no exception. I saw so many mysteries there. So many old lilacs, why? Sawed-off willows. Why prune? Truck and house brushed by the same hue. Why blue?

Urban Insights is a glimpse at the exciting ways we see our city through the eyes of artists, researchers and members of the community who have been involved with, ordefined by, the community in which they live and work. The exhibition explores issues and ideas of people, place, and planning.” Jann Baily, Urban Insights catalogue.

“It’s hard to make a place. It’s easier to recognize a place, but that means you have to learn to read it, see what it’s used for, who goes there and why, where, when. As Anne Whiston Spirn – landscape architect, professor, and author, as well as an artist/participant in the Kamloops Project – writes in her book The Language of Landscape, ‘Speaking in context demands more than using local materials and imitating forms common to the regional landscape. To speak in context is to distinguish deep and lasting contexts from those that are superficial and fleeting; it is to respond to the rhythms and histories of each and to project those contexts into the future.’” Lucy Lippard, Urban Insights catalogue.


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