Nature as Artifice
By William Meyers, who writes on photography for the Wall Street Journal
The first thing to be said about Neil Folberg’s photographs is that they are beautiful. Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, says in his book Beauty that “…beauty demands to be noticed,” and Folberg’s pictures certainly command our attention. The 18 medium format prints currently at the Flomenhaft Gallery, all but one of them taken in Iceland, contain landscapes – mountains, fjords, black beaches, ice formations – that are not only exquisite, but are the appropriate backdrops for Nordic sagas of heroes and gods. Folberg, too, chronicles cosmic adventures. His own hero, he figures as a silhouette in about half of his works. In Oversight – Looking Over the Horizon (2016) he stands on a chair set improbably in shallow water using binoculars to check out a seascape of modulated shades of pale blue; the image is surreal.
In Disturbing Stillness (2016) he plays a fool’s game; a tiny figure in the lower right hand corner, his arm raised as he throws stones into a body of water at the head of a glacier, the ripples dissipating long before they reach the immense river of ice wending its way patiently down a valley of snow-capped mountains. He moves forward determinedly across a beach of gray sand in Luminance (2016); beyond the beach mist rises from the water, and beyond the water is a range of mountains, and over all are clouds of various textures; the figure moving forward has both arms raised up stiffly overhead, but whether in supplication or defiance of the cosmic forces that surround him is not clear.
The elements of nature may be a given, but there is a sense in which Nature does not exist until it is designated as such, and certainly in paintings and photographs Nature is as much an artifice as the built environment. Folberg’s constant theme has been man’s place in Nature, and his consciousness of it. Scruton does not say in his book what beauty is, but he describes its effects; he says, “…beauty makes a claim on us: it is a call to renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world.” He could be talking about Neil Folberg’s photographs.