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Cool Clear Water
11am - 5pm
The title of this series comes from a popular song from the 1930’s written by the cowboy singer Bob Nolan. I was introduced to it through the Hank Williams version and a contemporary cover version of it, beautifully reharmonized and brought into current context by the American musican/poet Joni Mitchell.
The song describes the journey of a man and his mule across a desert, and a mirage they experience together. It is a song about a traveler wondering when faced with thirst, how he and his species fit into the natural order of things. The theme is contemporary, ancient, and universal. And the fundamental life energy being described is water. It is also about survival, in a visceral sense.
All of the major cultures of the world have a place in the history of their visual arts for the theme of water and, the container vessel (a symbol of the body, the earth, and regeneration) as seen in paintings, sculpture, fountains, and architecture. They are used as metaphors for the forces of life, moving in and out of containment. Water is the ultimate shape shifter.
Scientific inquiry has uncovered a lot about terrestrial water, such as the idea that most of it is trapped in rock under the earth’s surface, and that it came here most likely all at once, and the amount of it never increases or decreases. But there is even more that is really speculative, like, where it came from and when,.. from comets? To me the closest thing to real magic is water. If you photograph the landscape, eventually it will confront you.
Of course those of us occupying the 21st century are witnessing major transformations of our landscape: transformations of cultural geography in regard to the movement of people across the globe, as well as the physical transformations brought by drought and flood. The latter as seen recently in such diverse places as Australia, California, Syria, East Africa, New Orleans, Houston, New York, South Asia, and Puerto Rico. The dynamic presence of water, or extreme lack of it, is part of the daily news.
The reality of major climate change and its effects of focusing our attention on the preciousness of natural resources is defining the era we inhabit, in a big way, as it has for cultures before us. Our mysterious relationship to the landscape has once again become central to our own mythology. You don’t have to use helicopters, drones, and satellites to see that; it is right there in your own subconscious, where it has always been.
About John Dean
John is originally from Louisiana but has lived in Atlanta Georgia since 1996. He has both a BFA in art photography / art history, from the University of Arizona in Tucson and an MFA in art photography from Tyler School of Art of Temple University in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. In the mid 1970’s he studied contemporary art with Francis Coelho at Antioch College West in San Francisco. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s he studied photography with the internationally recognized artists, Todd Walker, William Larson, Harold Jones, Martha Madigan, Esther Parada, and Larry Fink. Two of these artists Todd Walker and Esther Parada were among the very first well known art photographers to fully embrace the transition to digital imagery, long before it was practical and supported commercially the way it is today.
John has studied and worked in a variety of avenues of art photography since the mid 1970’s. His personal imagery has been effected by the American artists Frederick Sommer and Robert Smithson, as well as the the New Topographics genre of urban landscape photo imagery experienced in the Southwest and, architectural theory that he encountered as a young student in the Southwest and later the East Coast. His work is represented in the Robert and Lucinda Bunnen Collection, and the Greenberg Traurig Collections in Atlanta, the Museum Of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Museum Of Contemporary Photography Chicago, the Yale University rare prints collection, the Kling architectural photography collection Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Camerawork artist’s book collection.
Besides his long involvement with art photography, John has worked in the architectural and still life applied photography world on his own and with other established photographers in both Philadelphia and Atlanta. When digital technology began to emerge in big way in the late 1990s, he was among that first group of artists to embrace the creative side of high stability photo pigment inkjet printmaking. He has continued to work with and teach the transitions of expression and craftsmanship made possible with these new tools, materials, and methods.
Three limited edition portfolios are available of John’s photography that describe various aspects of architecture, landscape, and especially the interaction of the built landscape with the pre-human landscape. His last two series, Before and After Pangaea, pictures geological formations photographed in the Atlanta vicinity by isolating them from their contexts. He uses them as a metaphor for plate tectonics, geological time, and the formation of continents and the Appalachian mountain range.
Cool Clear Water relates to the mystery of the most precious life force on the planet. As with the architectural models and objects he’s photographed, these pictures function more as still life works than traditional landscape photographs. In this work the veracity and craft of photography is used to activate the unconscious mind, not describe the literal world.
Featured detail image: John Dean, CCW #19, 2017, color pigment inkjet print on cotton media, 13″ x 19″, on loan from artist