As a painter, Jodi Patterson spent decades inside a studio. Now, as a landscape photographer, she uses photography as a platform for activism. Glaciers and icebergs, both susceptible to climate change, are a frequent subject of hers. She also enjoys photographing landscapes like rivers with waterfalls and mountain ranges.
Since 1989, Patterson has been exhibiting her art across the globe, including displays at such sites as the Manhattan Cultural Center, the Tate Modern in London, Ph21 gallery in Budapest, and COP21 at La Maison Bleu in Paris. She has been published in the International Journal of Art in Education and the Visual Arts Research Journal and serves as co-editor of ARTIZEIN: Arts and Teaching Journal.
Patterson has extensive travel experience, which informs her deep appreciation of nature, making it the subject of many of her photographs. Currently she works as an assistant professor and coordinator of Eastern Washington University’s art program.
GlacierHub spoke with Patterson by email.
GlacierHub: What first piqued your interest in photographing glaciers? And how does photographing glaciers differ from photographing other landscapes?
Jodi Patterson: Access is key. It wasn’t until I moved out west that I became acquainted with the beauty of a glacier first-hand. Now that I live in Washington I can easily get in a car and tromp a glacier, or hop a short airplane ride to them. Admittedly, at first it was about the adventure – the challenge and nuance of traversing a glacier. But as I met people who live and work around them, they show me how far the glaciers move, and teach me how much their lives (and the lives of plants and animals) are affected by the receding of the ice. I then began using my ability to voice collective worries via my art and audience.
All landforms have an essence. Glaciers have a dynamic balance of silence, sound and surprise – and offer a compelling and unique visual form to explore. The glory and grace of both their power and vulnerability is exactly the type of magnificence artists/people rarely get to experience first hand. Glaciers differ from landscapes due to their rarity of their form and the difficulty of walking to and on them.
GH: Many of your glacier images have surprisingly intense blues. Is this hard to capture?
I stare at my photographs and marvel at the color and patterns of the glaciers. I never would or could have thought to paint the world with the colors that naturally emerge on, in and around glaciers. The blues in the crevasses of a glacier are formed through thousands of years of compression. There is simply nothing else in the world that combines light, water and mineral in a way that produces the stunning ice blues that creep up to the light. As you can tell, my camera loves this anomaly.
GH: Many of your glacier images show details of glaciers, rather than long views of entire mountains. Why is this?
I suppose I take closer views of glaciers because I am closer – I am there. I am falling, slipping and tromping on the ice. I realize few people get to experience them as closely as I do – so I show it as I see it.
Though I appreciate the compliment and attention to my work, I really have no hand in the base splendor of what the photographs reveal! As a photographer, I choose to use my art as a witness and advocate of the land and climate. I feel blessed to be able to share our big, amazing world with others via my photos.
GH: Could you talk a bit about the difference between the two mediums you work with, paint and photography?
JP: I mentioned earlier that I spent most of my artistic life learning how to manipulate color through paint. Paint is my first love, but the skills of a painter (composition, form, color, etc.) can transfer to the photographer both pre and post-shot. Though skill transference occurs, I could write an entire paper comparing and contrasting the praxis of painting vs. photography! Perhaps the biggest shift (besides working in a studio vs. in nature) is that, as a photographer, I can only get “morning” if I am awake and outside in the morning. A painter can paint morning any time of a day he/she pleases.
More to your point, I call myself an interdisciplinary artist. This means I allow the message to dictate the medium not the other way around. As of now, photography best evidences my message of climate change and provides a fairly literal defense of it, which allows the message to not get lost in the abstraction of another art form. So far, my audience watches with interest.
GH: You write: “As an emerging landscape photographer, I am quickly learning the emergency-of-now; how once-in-a-lifetime moments are immediately lost if not acted upon.” Could you expand on this?
JP: The “emergency-of-now” is a core philosophy that relates to my personal, aesthetic and political views of life.
Personally, it reminds me to pay attention to what is important about a day and/or a life. You know – the “don’t sweat the small stuff” sort of thing.
Aesthetically, it prompts me to seek, notice and respond to “life” – and not take it for granted. So often people believe the things they witness, love or know will be always be accessible to us, but life dictates otherwise. A simple example occurred the other day when I was driving down the highway. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a waterfall flowing into a still pond, thus reflecting itself in the water and I thought there might be a photo there. It would have been easier to get that photo on my return, but I knew if I didn’t find a place to pull over and run to the waterfall immediately, the water may soon begin to ripple, the light would change and the photo might not have the value it had at that moment. So I found a place to pull over and I ran about a ¼ mile back to get the image, and I was happy with it.
And lastly, politically, the climate and the land pulsate with an urgent cry for attention. The glaciers are receding, the earth is cracking and water is becoming a commodity. The time to act in defense of the climate and the land is now and photographs can help divulge this fact and inspire others to care.