For college, I moved from my childhood home of suburban Colorado to Baltimore. It was a difficult transition from the wide open west, with natural areas to be easily accessed in every direction, to the center of a large east coast city, where I could only walk and take the light rail in attempt to interact with nature and animals anywhere I could. I adjusted by making photographs of my new surroundings, square, sans-people, and often of evidence of nature in the city. I thought about those pictures a lot while I was viewing Miska Draskoczy’s series Gowanus Wild. The photos are all made at night, the odd lighting and colors adding to the images’ bizarre subjects: a hanging plant mounted high on the brick wall of a parking lot; a huge tree surrounded by trash, graffiti, and glowing city lights.

From the artist’s statement: My vision for “Gowanus Wild” is to illustrate a personal exploration of nature and wilderness in the paradoxical setting of a contaminated industrial environment. As the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn has been declared a federal Superfund cleanup site and seen over 150 years of continuous industrial use, one of my aims with the series is to show just how tenacious nature can be in the face of such grave environmental destruction. Set entirely at night when the area empties of people and activity, the mood is one of stillness, reflection, and discovery.

I’ve lived on the border of Gowanus and Park Slope since 2008, and walking home through the deserted streets, I was always struck by how odd and atmospheric the place felt. At first I photographed the area because it inspired interesting images. Later I started to ask myself more consciously what it was that drew me to it. While an indictment of man’s abuse of the environment is perhaps inevitable, my goal is to not just celebrate nature’s resilience but to also show how it is paralleled by the human ability to seek and find the balm of nature in the most unlikely of places. I believe wilderness and adventure are natural longings and that satisfying these urges is perhaps less about far flung travel and more about altering our perception and awakening to our surroundings, however ugly or distraught they may be.

Gowanus Wild has been made into a book, which can be ordered here.

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