There are many wonderful places for photography on the web, but one of my all-time favorite places to visit are the magical realism worlds of California photographer Beth Moon. There is a long tradition of the mystical and magical in photography, arguably beginning with the little cherubs of photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron and encompassing the nymphs and nyads of Annie Brigman. But I truly believe that Ms. Moon takes this to a new level. Magical realism is the insertion of the mystic into reality in such a way that it becomes redefining, and reality becomes much more than it once was. We ascend into a mythic or spiritual plane much as we ascend into a great cathedral and we return to the mundane world a degree enlightened.
My introduction to Beth Moon’s work was a portfolio of her tree pictures, “Portraits of Time,” in Lens Work a couple of years back. Many of the trees that she photographs are over a thousand years old, some as much as four thousand. They are trees, but much more, they are silent witnesses to time and history. And, of course, there are two additional associations. First there is Frasier’s “Golden Bough,” the axis of the world, the Bodhi tree, the tree upon which Odin was crucified so that he could gain knowledge of the world, the tree of life, and the tree from which the cross was made. Second, there is Tolkein’s tale of the Ents, the tree people that have become sedentary witnesses.
In her photographs Ms. Moon takes us to other worlds as well. There is the world of many journeys in her series “Thy Kingdom Come.” There is a world of “Augurs and Soothsayers,” populated by magnificent all-knowing chickens. That particular world is double edged in that it seems to take us in two directions at once: first along a magic path and second a scientific one as these pictures are reminiscent of illustrations for Charles Darwin’s “Origin of Species.” And most recently, Beth takes us to “Odin’s Cove,” the intimate world of the ravens of the California. What is more mythical in the new world than the old trickster raven, here masterful drawn with great empathy and love? The point is not only that all of these pictures make us think, but that they first make us feel, and then they enlighten us.
Beth’s work has taught me a lot about the lack of limits that photography holds in the hands of a master practitioner. But I also learned one more thing from her. About three years ago I went to see her work in person at Gallery 291. For the first time I understood the subtlety of art that is the Platinum Palladium print. Now whenever I see one, my first reaction is “ahh, platinum palladium.”
Beth Moon’s work is not just worth seeing, it is worth seeing again and again.