1/20/2016 Peter Durantine

At the Phillips Museum: A River's Power and the Majesty of the Antarctic

In December 1991, sailor John Holmgren stood on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, an icebreaker plowing across Antarctica's Ross Sea toward McMurdo Research Station. The aspiring photographer had brought along his 35 mm camera to document the journey.

Today, Holmgren, a Franklin & Marshall College assistant professor of art, has incorporated his 25-year-old photos of the frozen continent and its black birds into an exhibit, "District of the Penguins," at F&M's Phillips Museum of Art.

The exhibition debuts Jan. 28 in The Rothman Gallery, but not before the intrepid Holmgren presents another photo exhibit, "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams," which opened Jan. 15 in The Gibson Curriculum Gallery.

"I've been interested in photography since high school," he said.

  • This and the following three photographs are from Holmgren's "District of the Penguins" exhibit at the Phillips Museum of Art. This and the following three photographs are from Holmgren's "District of the Penguins" exhibit at the Phillips Museum of Art. Image Credit: John Holmgren
  • District of the Penguins. District of the Penguins. Image Credit: John Holmgren
  • District of the Penguins. District of the Penguins. Image Credit: John Holmgren
  • District of the Penguins District of the Penguins Image Credit: John Holmgren
  • This and the next three photos are part of the exhibit, "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams,"  a collaborative work by John Holmgren and Nick Conbere, F&M's 2016 Conrad Nelson Lecturer. This and the next three photos are part of the exhibit, "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams," a collaborative work by John Holmgren and Nick Conbere, F&M's 2016 Conrad Nelson Lecturer. Image Credit: John Holmgren and Nick Conbere
  • "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" Image Credit: John Holmgren and Nick Conbere
  • "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" Image Credit: John Holmgren and Nick Conbere
  • "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" "River Relations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams" Image Credit: John Holmgren and Nick Conbere

Holmgren's work in the river exhibit reflects the first 18 months of a multi-year collaboration with Nick Conbere, F&M's 2016 Conrad Nelson Lecturer (March 3, 5 p.m., Stahr Auditorium). Conbere is assistant professor at Emily Carr University of Art and Design in British Columbia.

Their project's focus is the 1,243-mile Columbia River, the largest in the Pacific Northwest. From British Columbia's Rocky Mountains, the river flows first northwest and then south, shaping the Washington-Oregon border before emptying into the open sea. A series of hydroelectric dams on the river and its tributaries produce more hydroelectric power than any other river in North America.

The exhibit examines how man-made hydroelectric dams affect the natural surrounding environments over time. Holmgren and Conbere combine photography and a variety of printmaking processes, such as etching and screen-printing.

This inaugural exhibit shows the first dam they studied, Bonneville. They use 6-inch squares to map out and narrate every mile of the river. Bonneville is marked at river mile 146.1.

"It's our interpretation of the river," Holmgren said.  "We're interested in the flow of energy. That's the river itself and the energy that radiates from the 14 major dams on the Columbia."

For his solo exhibit on Antarctica, where he shot photographs over a two-month period when there is sunlight for 24 hours, Holmgren combined his photos with journals, maps and drawings from the men who led and served on expeditions there in the 19th and early 20th centuries — Ernest Shackleton and Charles Wilkes among them.

William Reynolds, a young U.S. naval officer from Lancaster whose journals are housed in F&M's archives, was assigned to the U.S. Exploring Expedition led by Wilkes from 1838 to 1842. The expedition was tasked with exploring and surveying the Pacific Ocean, including the Columbia River and Antarctica. 

Holmgren used Reynolds' journals and other materials housed in the College's Archives and Special Collections division at the Martin Library of the Sciences. He took his original photos, incorporated visuals such as maps, texts and etchings, and then re-photographed the new, multilayered pieces.

"I wanted to use the documentation of Antarctica with my own documentation," he said. "So I view my photographs as almost like an archive of photographs."

IF YOU GO: "District of the Penguins Exhibition" and "River Revelations: A Beholder's Share of the Columbia River Dams," through March 11, Phillips Museum of Art.

 

  • Twenty-five years ago F&M Assistant Professor of Art John Holmgren visited Antarctica as a U.S. Coast Guard sailor and took many photos that he is now exhibiting. Twenty-five years ago F&M Assistant Professor of Art John Holmgren visited Antarctica as a U.S. Coast Guard sailor and took many photos that he is now exhibiting. Image Credit: Deb Grove
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