Anna Gaby-Trotz
“Who can define the moods of the wild places, the meaning of nature in domains beyond those of material use? Here are worlds of experience beyond the world of the aggressive man, beyond history, and beyond science. The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirits.” – Ansel Adams

I was once told that the landscape was dead. That the work I was doing in the Canadian North was “heartbreakingly Canadian”. I don’t see how a landscape that I have spent summer after summer, year after year, not just documenting, but living in can be dead. We live in a world where we are bombarded with images of death. Does this make us unable to see the living?

This summer I had the honor of travelling to Trout Lake in the North West Territories. Here I was witness to a place where the landscape is still a living and breathing entity. It is a modern Dene community—albeit a remote one—but it still retains the stories and memories and ways of a people who have an incredible affinity for survival.
Here I tried to figure out why it is that I work in the land. Instead of answers I came away with so many more questions. Why do I go back to the North to learn from the landscape and people? Why do I not photograph those people? Why are we destroying the landscape as we know it? Why more pipe lines? How has it come to be that we think that technology can fix everything? I started to get sad and overwhelmed. Worried that the images that I present to you can’t solve these problems. That they are too simple and I have like so many before me in the landscape genre fallen into the same trap of capturing beautiful remote places for consumption.

Wilderness Homeland is an attempt to explore my relationship to the land. It is a collection of images gathered from a trip last summer on the Nahanni River in the North West Territories. Many are from an area called “The Cirque of the Unclimbables”. These spaces are sacred. In them is a deep and silent questioning. In a world where things are constantly changing, people, the earth, water, the planet—these rocks, this water, these spaces have been guardians of this change. They have felt the shift and change long before humans began to measure it. Every small shift, every change in wind is echoed in these spaces.

There is a beautiful darkness in these silent moments. There is an acknowledgment that there is something bigger than us. Not in the religious sense, though some have tried to illustrate this kind of power in landscape, but in a raw power. There is a vulnerability that one feels being exposed in a place that is completely out of ones control. In an interview for the book Dark Mountain Volume II, David Abram talks about the land: “It’s shot through with shadows and predation and risk—it’s fucking dangerous, this place—but it’s mighty beautiful precisely because it’s so shadowed and riven with difficulty.”

I offer these images as reflections of this way of thinking. These images I present today are ones that are about listening to these seemingly silent places. They are about the duality between light and dark, beauty and decay, and strength and fragility. In “Endgame” Derek Jenson writes a beautiful chapter called “Listening to the Land. Jenson begins to examine the state of our environment. In the chapter entitled Listening to the Land, Jenson explores the possibility that the death and destruction that we human beings impose on ourselves could be a result of the way in which we have devalued the spiritual and metaphorical understanding of what it means to live:
This death urge is partly a desire to die to this way of living that does not serve us well, but because we in this culture have forgotten that the spiritual exists, and have devalued the metaphorical, we do not understand that this death does not have to be physical, but could be transformative (Jensen 89).

I believe that there often is a simplistic misconception about landscape art, and that this form of visual representation has the potential to extend its meaning well beyond the literal and physical depiction of a space to exist on the metaphorical level of transformation.

I can’t tell you in this brief statement what you are supposed to feel. It is my hope that in some way these images can inspire a sense of connection to the land, or perhaps a questioning of the growing disconnect our society has to it. It is my hope that you will listen.