By Puloma Ghosh
Boston, Mass. – At the Galatea Fine Arts Gallery on Harrison Ave., Maggie McCauley’s “’Scapes” exhibits detailed, and at times, haunting black and white photographs of urban and natural landscapes from around New England.
At first glance, they appear to be just black and white photographs of landscapes you see every day. However, looking further into eachphotograph, one can find unique features and moments that were captured on film, and each image tells a small story about the landscape within. Themes of mortality and temporality surface in the branches of trees and the bricks of buildings, and the photographs breathe with the history of their inhabitants.
“Connector,” for instance, is a simple image of a bridge across a river. However, the rusted and weathered quality of the bridge shows its age, and the fact that it has been a connector, not only literally between the two banks of the river, but also between the people who have travelled across it to connect their lives with others.
“If you drive by this bridge, it just looks like a crappy old bridge,” McCauley said laughingly. “But there’s really a beauty to it. There’s a railroad, from Providence to Worcester, and where we live on top of a hill, sometimes if all things in nature are perfect, you can hear the whistle as it goes by.”
Looking at the wear and tear of the bridge, one can almost hear the sound of the wheels on the tracks, and that distant whistle heard by the inhabitants of the landscape.
Many of the photographs take place in a similar area surrounding the Blackstone River. “I live in the Blackstone National Heritage Valley,” McCauley explained. “The Blackstone River runs from Worcester all the way to Providence. There are mills all along it, and all of these mills were powered by the Blackstone. I love this area — it’s the best place to be when you want to have peace and quiet.”
The peaceful state felt by McCauley along the Blackstone and its canals is transferred to the viewer in alternating images of stillness and shifting water.
Her urban landscapes have the same storytelling effect. “Remnants of an Era: Bernat Mill” is a haunting portrait of a hollowed out buildings, its crumbling walls standing around an empty lot, gravestones populating the foreground.
“It was a beautiful mill,” McCauley reminisced. “I used to go into this mill early in the morning when the stores would be closed — it would have the best light. It was the most beautiful place, and I’m still drawn to it, even though it’s just a shell of what it used to be.”
Death is heavy on the peace, not only of the people buried in the graves, but of the industry and the era that the wreckage of the mill represented— yet the beauty is still there. The mill, with its pillars, tall windows and vintage-lettered sign, stands austere and important even as a ghost of its former self.
Beyond just setting and history, each photograph also has a personal touch. Mortality is clearly present in many of the photographs, none so much as in “Memorial Day.” The cracked grave, although not quite as wide of a landscape as the other photographs in the exhibit, seems to be opening a gateway to the landscape of what lies beyond. An American flag is tucked into the dirt within the crack.
“One of the things I find is that when I take pictures it kind of centers me.” McCauley said. “Some of these have a lot of meaning in things that have happened. We had a few deaths in our family. I saw this picture and it reminded me of how death is inevitable. It’s coming to terms with that.”
This show is not only a reminder of our mortality, but also a reminder to capture the transient pieces before they disappear and are forgotten. “’Scapes” brings to attention quiet moments that may have otherwise gone unseen or unnoticed before they are lost to the shifting landscape of time.
(“Maggie McCauley: ‘Scapes” is on view at Galatea Fine Arts on 460B Harrison Ave., #B-6, Boston, Mass. through July 27; the gallery is open Wednesday through Friday from noon–6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon–5 p.m. For more information, call (617) 542-1500.)