Piece description from the artist
A dried Hydrangea flower from last summer gets a dusting of snow. This is one of a pair of images.
Art & Soul: Photographer creates tributes to nature
By Allison Hersh
Photographer Barbara Marie Kraus (Northrup) finds inspiration in vintage textiles, fractal geometry and gnarled boughs of live oak trees.
This St. Simons Island-based photographer expresses her passion for nature in a colorful series of images at Grand Bohemian Gallery in The Mansion on Forsyth Park. In this provocative “pop-up” exhibit, Kraus strategically manipulates photographs to emphasize patterns and textures found in coastal Georgia’s lush tree canopy.
The resulting images celebrate nature in dense, mandala-like compositions defined by a powerful sense of symmetry, texture and repetition. Kraus recently discussed the allure of the natural world and the power of patterns with the Savannah Morning News.
Your photography is heavily inspired by nature. What appeals to you about the natural world and particularly coastal Georgia?
Nature has always been part of my life. The Georgia coast is wonderful. It has such a variety of ecosystems. From the beaches to the salt marshes, maritime forests and rivers, all have unique patterns and complexities.
My husband and I often kayak, hike and camp, not only on the Georgia coast, but all over Canada and the United States. This gives me the opportunity to get away from civilization, to unplug and really immerse myself in nature.
It’s an incredible experience to sit quietly and listen to the wind in the trees, the sound of water as it ripples over rocks and the other gentle noises of a living land. It frustrates me that more people don’t understand that this earth is a living entity.
What are some of your favorite subjects to shoot?
The storms that come up provide drama, and I love the atmosphere of foggy mornings in the winter. Fog and ancient oak trees are a magical combination.
One of my favorite subjects to photograph is birds. I have always loved the textures and patterns of their feathers, and they are so beautiful in flight.
I feel very fortunate to have such easy access to such a beautiful area. The light of the coastal area is so special, which is why it attracts so many artists.
Your show at Grand Bohemian Gallery involves quite a bit of digital manipulation, emphasizing textures and patterns in nature. Why did you decide to take this particular approach?
I prefer to use the term “transformed” or “transformation” when referring to my work. I love to study leaves, bark, rocks, bones. I have a collection of objects and I’m always bringing more stuff home, to my husband’s chagrin!
If you look close enough, you see patterns. This interest in patterns was further stimulated when I discovered that what intrigued me so much had been studied and, actually had a name: fractal geometry. I’ve done a lot of reading about fractals and chaos theory, which I find fascinating. While the patterns I create are not true fractals, they have that feel.
I love the right brain, left brain balance that fractal-like patterns have. The patterns I create are a natural extension of the things I find most interesting.
With its repetitive fields, your work recalls textile patterns. Is that something you’re doing consciously?
My current work is really just an extension of my life-long interest in textiles. I studied interior design in San Francisco in the 1980’s. I actually wanted a career in textile design, but there weren’t many opportunities for that on the West Coast at the time.
Over the years, I dabbled with dying and weaving textiles, but it wasn’t until photography went digital that I was able to use my photographs to create patterns. I see all of my pattern prints as textiles. I would love to move towards textile and product design in the future.
What is your overall philosophy when it comes to photography?
I believe photography is different things to different people. A photograph straight out of the camera may be the final product for some people. Others like to enhance or modify their images.
I use many of my photos as raw material from which to create my patterns. There are no rules. Photography is an art form, and I encourage any type of creative exploration it can provide.
If you didn’t become a photographer, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
If I hadn’t become an artist, I would have become a biologist. My father is a great outdoorsman, and I spent my childhood in Canada hunting, fishing and exploring with him. He taught me to be still and take time to look at the world, to see the details in things around me and to appreciate the beauty of nature.
Why do you find patterns so fascinating?
I believe that the entire universe is a complex series of patterns, and we have the ability to see them if we learn how. This understanding of universal rhythms, patterns and connections is something the ancient people had, but we have lost.
If people appreciate nature and how they are a part of it, they will be more willing to sacrifice comforts to protect it. I want them to see nature in an ancient way that is new to us.
Too many people just don’t see the world around them. I hope my work will encourage people to stop and examine the natural world more closely and to learn to see the patterns that are there naturally.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
An outdoor enthusiast, photographer Barbara Northrup lives on St. Simons Island. She specializes in landscape and nature photography, celebrating the beauty of the Georgia coast. Northrup studied textile and interior design in San Francisco before moving to the Golden Isles in 1994. A popular instructor, she offers a wide range of classes and workshops at the Glynn Visual Arts on St. Simons Island.