A River Runs Through Me

curated by Ariel Shanberg

August 8 – September 20, 2009

In conjunction with New York’s Quadracentennial celebrations of the European discovery of what is now known as the Hudson River, the Center for Photography at Woodstock is pleased to present A River Runs Through Me, an exhibition of work by four artists whose photographic explorations celebrate rivers as a source of inspiration and intersection with personal, historical, cultural, and religious significance. Collectively, their works captures the tremendous influence these natural watercourses have on our lives.

Throughout history, rivers have provided the lifeblood to countless societies and cultures, as well as for commerce and as a source of artistic inspiration. In today’s world of global networks, interstate highways, the internet, and more, such rooted connections to what were once the defining element of a civilization (e.g. the Nile River in Egypt, the Euphrates River of the Middles East, the Thames in London, or Paris’ River Seine) are now lost if not severely disconnected. As often is its role, Art continuously offers us the portal to reconnect us to that from which our daily lives are severed. With their individual explorations, the artists featured in A River Runs through Me rekindle a sense of connection and influence as they draw inspiration from, document the nature of, and define the lasting effect rivers hold on us.

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Barbara Bosworth‘s (Stow, MA) work has long focused on her personal connection to the landscape. Featured in this exhibition are images from two bodies of work including The Bitterroot River series (1995-97) and work from her most recent residency at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont a place that was once her childhood home and now is now part of the national park. In her series The Bitterroot River, made along Montana’s Bitterroot River in the years following the death of a loved one, Bosworth employs the river’s elusive surface and constant state of flux as a meditative offering on our temporality while also embracing a more affirmative outlook in the river’s surroundings. Arranged in grid, the resulting installation offers a powerful visual narrative. Accompanying Bosworth’s work from the Bitterroot River series is a new multi-image landscape depicting one of the rivers that flows near by her childhood home. The enveloping sense of the culminating 40″x 90″ work retains the sense of wonderment and personal connection to nature.

In her series The Spoon River Anthology Albany NY native photographer Christa Parravani‘s (Sunderland, MA) brings the words of Edgar Lee Masters’ same titled collection of 244 poems written in the voice of the deceased residents of a fictional town describing the situations that led to their demise; to life. Set within evocative and lush settings of the MacDowell and Yaddo Art Colonies, each image, imbued with a tinge of mystery and melancholy posits the characters much like ghosts anchored to the setting of their mortal life. To Parravani, the individual is a product of his or her environment, and thereby belongs, embossed for eternity, within it. In their final presentation the each character’s poem is placed alongside the framed photograph collaborate to give voice to these fictional individuals who appear to be born out of and bound to their river setting.

Included in this exhibition are works from two series by Elijah Gowin (Kansas City, MO). The majority of images featured belong to Gowin’s series Watering and bring forth references to the religious importance rivers hold and water’s figurative and actual ability to offer a wiping of the past, and offer a sense of spiritual and physical renewal. With Christianity’s Baptismal tradition as a backdrop to this exploration, Gowin’s images lie within an ambiguous in-between state, like their subject matter, frozen within a state of transformation. Alongside works from the Watering series are images from his series Of Floating & Falling which echo the previous body of works’ religious themes with visual explorations of faith and doubt.

Though the Mississippi River never actually appears in the selection of images featured in this exhibition, by Alec Soth (Minneapolis, MN), the River’s presence reverberates through images of landscapes and individuals who live along its banks in his series Sleeping by the Mississippi. Known to the Algonkian Indians as the “Father of all Waters” the Mississippi River with its tremendous literary influence (perhaps most notably in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn) bares many identities along its course. Traveling along its path which covers ten States, Soth’s subjects appear posed before his 8×10 camera professing their dreams as well revealing as their tethered realities. Like the river whose constant stream can both transport us to our promised destination and pull us down to its haunting depths. Soth, who sees photography as closely akin to poetry, offers us through his images, a poetic journey along the Mississippi one that is both languid and jostling, seductive and haunting.

– Ariel Shanberg, 2009

Ariel Shanberg is the Executive Director at the Center for Photography at Woodstock.


"A River Runs Through Me", curated by Ariel Shanberg, August 8 - September 20, 2009Barbara Bosworth

"A River Runs Through Me", curated by Ariel Shanberg, August 8 - September 20, 2009Elijah Gowin

"A River Runs Through Me", curated by Ariel Shanberg, August 8 - September 20, 2009Christa Parravani

"A River Runs Through Me", curated by Ariel Shanberg, August 8 - September 20, 2009  Alec Soth