Two Mississippi is a story of light and landscape - a visual record of an expedition along the Mississippi River as it meanders through Minnesota. The voyage follows the path of early explorers searching for the source of the great river, beginning in Minnesota bluff country and continuing north to the headwaters at Lake Itasca.
The story falls in two parts. Inspired by large scale Mississippi Panorama paintings of the mid 19th century, the first part is a panoramic photograph, comprised of vignettes captured in moments of repose along the banks of the river. The second part consists of a collection of abstract photographic impressions that visualize atmospheric qualities of light along the horizon. The are long exposures recorded while moving parallel to the river’s path.
All of the images in Two Mississippi were captured with the Trailer Obscura, a 5’ x 8’ pinhole camera on wheels. The innate characteristics of a camera on wheels produces images that are moving and still at the same time. The nature of the lensless aperture eliminates interference between space and record, creating a pure projection of light and atmosphere, perspective and scale. The added element of time afforded by the pinhole results in an image that visualizes the presence of light and perspective parallel to experienced reality.
When contemplating the work I often think of Thomas Cole’s Essay on American Scenery, in which he writes “I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes is quickly passing away.” Written in 1835, the words describe a longing for “wild and uncultivated scenery,” exactly the kind of landscapes that were celebrated by the Mississippi Panoramas of the same era. However, when read in a modern context, one might instead reflect on the ways in which we now experience landscape - watching it quickly pass as we move through it at high speeds, stopping periodically to enjoy the view. In a way, by allowing me to objectively record the Mississippi landscape as a contemporary experience, the Trailer Obscura provides a salve to Cole’s sorrow.
Two Mississippi marks the conclusion of a greater expedition to photograph the Mississippi River valley with the Trailer Obscura, from the mouth at the Gulf of Mexico to the headwaters in Minnesota. I began photographing in Pot Sulphur, Louisiana in early 2015 and made the last exposure at Lake Itasca in summer 2018.