Daily Picture Show

Surreal Scenes Make Big Environmental Statements

Oil spills, tsunamis, climate change: Try as we may to mitigate big problems, sometimes it just feels futile. "These can be very heavy, overly didactic issues to convey in art," photographer Robert ParkeHarrison writes, "so I choose to portray them through a more theatrically absurd approach."

The man in these photos, to extend a metaphor, is trying to mend the Earth with a needle and thread in some sort of post-apocalyptic dreamscape. At first glance, they look like old pictures of a guy in a suit fiddling with some funny-looking machinery.

The Sower

The Sower Courtesey of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison/Jack Shainman Gallery, NY hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesey of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison/Jack Shainman Gallery, NY

But look closer: He is flying a very unstable-looking contraption resembling a watermill, or dragging the ground around like a carpet. Husband-and-wife team Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison combine several media, including photography, painting, sculpture and theater, to construct surreal images like these:

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The ParkeHarrisons start each series of photographs with research and sketches, and then begin to "build props out of junk" and look for landscape settings for their images, Shana writes in an email.

Guardian i i

Guardian Courtesy of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison/Jack Shainman Gallery hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison/Jack Shainman Gallery
Guardian

Guardian

Courtesy of Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison/Jack Shainman Gallery

The mythic photos depict an "everyday" man interacting with, or trying to bandage up, a broken piece of the Earth. But his tools are never suited for the task before him. Shana says their work doesn't offer a solution to environmental problems — "We are not scientists, we're artists," she says — but she hopes their work will allow viewers to think more critically about humans' relationship to technology and nature, and "inspire change, one viewer at a time."

These photos appear in the book The Architect's Brother, republished last year by Twin Palms Publishers, and were recently on display at Jack Shainman Gallery.

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