The world seems very different when viewed from a great height; for that matter, getting up really close to something also alters how it appears. Whether looking at something from either far away or up close, there is a tendency toward abstraction.
In an exhibit titled “Double Take” at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, Peter Stern and Janet Little Jeffers immerse viewers in what amounts to a perceptual exercise.
Stern’s digital aerial photographs are taken from his own small airplane flying at a height of between 500 and 800 feet. His interest in landscape photography has a distinctive environmental emphasis in terms of how coal mines and other large-scale interventions alter the look of the landscape.
In some of his photos, it’s immediately clear to the viewer what is being seen. “Coal Ridge Forest,” for example, was shot in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, and has distinct bands of vegetation alternating with bands of mined land.
Similarly, “Deforested Hillside,” shot in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, features a landscape with so few trees still standing that you have to repress an impulse to attempt counting what remains.
There are so many photos looking straight down at the ground far below that it’s initially a bit of a surprise to see a photo such as “Cloud Study #3." Shot in York County, Pennsylvania, it presents dark clouds dramatically broken by a blue-and-white patch of clear sky.
Other photos by Stern essentially feature landscapes that appear to exist somewhere between representation and abstraction.
“Sand Mine Berm” was shot in Cecil County. Although you can tell that this aerial shot depicts a mining operation, a sand berm and a holding pond seem like colorful zones in an abstract composition.
Even more extreme is “Red Shale and Coal Tailings,” which was shot in Luzerne County. The rocks and other residue of the mining process really do make it seem as if the landscape has become an abstract work of art.
Janet Little Jeffers has the occasional photograph indicating it was taken at a bit of a height. This is definitely the case with “Furrow,” in which the lines of plowed farmland possess a symmetrical beauty as they hug the gently rolling land.
More often, however, Jeffers is very much on the ground for her photographic observations. Indeed, she gets very close to her photographic subjects.
In “Birch Gradient,” she provides an extreme close-up view of the brown-and-white patterns found on tree bark.
Most of her photographs are not as easily interpreted, though, because it’s generally not certain what is being photographed. Although the photo called “Tailings” indicates that the bits of green, brown and blue are related to mining process, many other photographs are essentially pure abstractions.
In “Transference,” for example, the zones of pink and blue are so completely abstracted that you really don’t have any clues as to what it is you’re looking at. It does look quite beautiful, whatever it is.
Peter Stern and Janet Little Jeffers exhibit through Oct. 12 at the Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Call 410-730-3987 or go to wildelake.org.