Visuals essays of local nature

The GVSU Ravines will be featured in an upcoming art exhibit

Eric Coulter

The GVSU Ravines will be featured in an upcoming art exhibit

Elijah Brumback

The uncertainty of nature is continually present on a number of levels, sometimes devastating as in Japan and sometimes slow and gradual. Preventing and planning to avoid these disasters is almost entirely in reaction to the event, given sometimes there is nothing that could have be done. But in the case of the ravines at Grand Valley State University, it is possible to be proactive in approaching a possible blight and unsafe environment.

Ravines Revisited, a photograhpic essay exhibit by GVSU faculty artists Dellas Henke, Stanley Krohmer and Anthony Thompson opens tonight and will run through April, 15 in the GVSU Art Gallery.

The Ravines at GVSU have a rich geological history spanning back 15,000 years.

According to Assistant Geology professor Patrick Colgan, who wrote a brief history of the ravines in 2010, said the creation of the ravines were aided by the effects of the last Ice Age, among other factors.

Currently, sediment build-up has contributed to the reduction of the trees and other root bearing structures. Where once the ravine bottoms were filled with trees and other foliage, there are no expanding meadows.

Two possible near-term futures exist for the ravines, according to Colgan. One, they could reach a new equilibrium with the changing climate and imposed human impacts allowing for a well maintained forest and laboratory for students. Two, the ravines could become an unsightly, chaotic zone of unstable and eroding slopes.

The artists’ work explores the beauty and complexity of the landscape as well as the effects of erosion and the complex relationship those here at Grand Valley have with the ravines.

Krohmer, whose photos were chosen from more than 2500 Tri-X and Fuji medium format film negatives made between fall 2005 and early Spring, 2007, said that his photographs are meant to reflect light and form as well as the spirit of the ravines.

He worked with black and white and color film photography and several vintage 1950’s Rolleiflex F Twin Lens Reflex cameras.

“They were designed to be used handheld with a neck strap, but I worked with them on a heavy duty tripod in order to make longer exposures,” Krohmer said. “The square format negative (2 ¬º x 2 ¬º ) was only critical to the extent that I did not have to decide on whether to frame the shot horizontally or vertically in the viewfinder like one must do with a 35mm camera.”

He set out initially in 2005 to explore the Ravines land because, even though he had been teaching at GVSU for nine years at that point, he had never spent much time there. His only goal he said was to work on a long-term photographic landscape project, with the intent of making images that expressed something of what he saw and felt during that solitary time.

“At first, I made more traditional ‘grand’ landscape photos that were about the drama of the light, shadow and earth forms. Later, during 2006-07, I tried to work more with abstraction and less objective forms.”

Henke took three series of prints over the past 10 years. Some of the photographs being exhibited are more recent and are in digital format.

“I decided to use digital for two reasons, one, digital was new to me and was looking for excuses to see what it could do and two, It made sense for this series because of the way I decided to shoot.”

Henke said initially he went down into the ravines and took the typical, broad cathedral-type landscape shots, but over the course of another summer he made some documentary-style photos including damage, erosion and vandalism. The vandalism he described were the painted trees and rocks of frats as well as vandalism he said the school was responsible for, with the decision to drain parking lots into the ravines.

In the latter digital series Henke said he didn’t want to deal with the grandeur or the political, instead opting to explore the wonderful experience when walking around the ravines.

“I tried to focus on small things that catch sometimes catch your eye. I would set the camera near my feet and and shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Kind of like the way your eye wanders when you’re walking around, as unselfconscious as possible.”

When he made the political series, those that show the damage, vandalism and garbage, they were shown in the Siedman House.

“We were trying to draw attention to the fact that the ravines are used by many departments on campus. It might be the most valuable class room on campus and anyone who has spent time back there can see the neglect and garbage.”

Henke said back in the early 2000s during the mass building efforts on campus, the school built parking lots over two current scientific study cites, which effectively ended the science. This caught some administrators’ attention, so Henke and others were asked to make some recommendations beneficial to the ravines, which they called the Trailways Committee.

“I don’t want to say we were ignored, but it seemed as if our suggestions just weren’t fully considered,” he said. “One suggestion was renaming the ravines, the Ravines Sanctuary, and make it a protected place.”

Plans to curb the drainage and erosion and make necessary reroutes on the trails have been considered, but are currently stalled as the project is expected to produce an expensive bill.

Approximately 7 years ago, Henke created the ravine archive, which documents how people use the ravines at GVSU. The archive contains everything from art to scientific research articles concerning the ravines.

“I would love this exhibit to drawn more attention to this archive,” Henke said. “It’s a record of our relationship with that piece of land, we can’t just keep congratulating ourselves on our sustainability efforts. Its a small piece of land that reflects a lot of problems we see elsewhere in society and its a phenomenal learning tool.”

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