The French Alps are a wild, primeval place of rock, ice, fog and precipice. The monumental peaks and turbulent atmosphere can provoke a wide range of emotions — from inspiration to awe to dread.
For me, it was all three. During the late summer of 2017, I spent a week hiking at mid and high altitudes in the mountains above Megeve and Chamonix. I traveled with local guides due to the real risks of encountering sudden rock slides, crevasses and storms.
The grinding effects of time and weather on this rugged terrain made a visceral, lasting impression. To see, up close, tectonic change on such a grand scale conveyed a vivid sense of this environment as a vast, unsettled, dangerous place.
Against the Sea
The west coast of Florida has a number of heavily eroded beaches populated with clusters of dead and decaying trees. In recent years, I’ve been drawn to these stark, remote places and often wander among the skeletal forms with my camera.
The withering effects of time and the coastal elements are especially vivid and meaningful to me. Now into my fifth decade, I’m increasingly confronted by a disruptive awareness of my own physical decline and sense of mortality.
These ruminations have been energized by the recent loss of my beloved father, John Henry Bolendz, who endured for many years a devastating neurological illness with unwavering grace, dignity and sense of humor. This series is a photographic meditation on the transience of all living things and their inevitable disappearance.
Florida: Personal Reflections
This project started as a documentary study of Florida's diminishing, and fragmented, habitats - habitats which have been devastated by decades of human activity. Over time, however, it gradually took on a more personal, more biographical, dimension.
As I visited conservation areas around the state, I found myself being drawn toward individual trees, or groups of trees, that vividly manifested the struggle to endure and thrive. I felt a powerful emotional emotional connection to the sturdy roots, reaching limbs, and leaning trunks of a diverse range of living subjects I had discovered during my explorations.
For me, a survivor of a rare childhood disease, I saw echoes of my own particular experience with adversity being expressed in a much larger, more universal, context. This recognition has been a source of personal solace and understanding. And the many examples of perseverance I encountered in the natural world have nourished in me a sense of hope that, no matter what, life will always find a way forward.
During the summer months, when the storms come, Florida’s tropical beauty gets deluged almost daily by cataclysms of wind and rain. I often seek shelter inside my car or home, where I find myself staring at the wild maelstroms just outside the window.
The menacing weather speaks to an inner disquiet I’ve carried with me since childhood. At age nine, I was diagnosed with a serious, chronic and physically disruptive disease that had lasting consequences. This project is shaped by the emotional legacy — a lingering sense of existential vulnerability — of that difficult period in my life.
The moody, Fauvist-like images in “Rainy Season” were made using an iPhone and Hipstamatic, a digital app that replicates the flawed optics of analog toy cameras. The heavy vignetting, strange color shifts and unexpected light leaks (all obtained at image capture) give photographic form to an expressive, and cathartic, fusion of a darkly remembered past and the living present, of child and adult perspectives, and of the internal and external worlds.
One day in 2016, a severe thunderstorm blew in from the Gulf of Mexico. I was walking alone on a remote beach in Florida. The approaching weather system was so menacing and sublime I started running as fast as I could, breathless and afraid, to get to my car in a distant parking lot before the storm swept ashore.
I had the sensation of being suddenly immersed in one of J.M.W. Turner’s stormy maritime paintings, where tiny human figures – on rocky coastlines or floundering ships – confront the dark, chaotic, overwhelming powers of nature. After this experience, I began documenting storms along Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Turner’s 19th Century perspective has a fresh – and ominous – resonance today as the effects of climate change intensify around the globe. “Maelstrom” is an emotionally expressive series that gives photographic form to a dark awareness of how the individual stands in relation to the larger, unpredictable forces of the external world.
My father struggled for many years with a debilitating neurological illness. It slowly robbed him of his physical functioning, his mental acuity and then ultimately his life. During this time, I often found myself visiting a number of small, quiet, leafy ponds in my neighborhood to engage in solitary, somber reflection.
Then I started bringing my camera with me. The moving surface of the ponds, especially during the fall and winter months, was rich in visual metaphors. Amid the fluid and fleeting apparitions of shifting light, passing clouds and seasonal foliage reflected on the water, I closely observed minute instances of a much larger, natural and timeless cycle.
“Autumn Waters” is a photographic record of these transient phenomena that captured my attention during this melancholic period. It gives expressive form to a deeply emotional struggle to accept a difficult, looming loss.