Gwen Arkin has photographed W. S. Merwin’s forest for nearly five years, from time to time sharing with him both her images and her responses to the rare individual organisms in his unique garden. Merwin’s generous sharing of his property and quiet support of Ms. Arkin’s artistic voice lends this work deep significance, infusing each image with far more than documentary value.
Ms. Arkin uses non-technical cameras (pinhole, toy cameras, etc.) because they require that she relinquish technical control and focus exclusively on composition, light and texture. These constraints make the process visceral, without the intermediary of an instrument which “corrects” the transient reality of vision. The softly focused stillness of the images from Merwin’s garden conjures the legacy of nineteenth-century photographic pictorialism. Ms. Arkin intends to remind the viewer that while her processes are material and governed by time, this ethereal, majestic garden abides by a different order.
Ms. Arkin’s images pay homage to the palm forest and its individual trees, as well as to the recognition she shares with Merwin of the fleeting, fugitive beauty of the life of a forest. The finished prints offer a view of the forest and its spirit, but more importantly, lends it another voice to the forest itself.