Terry Evans recently took the time to sit down with Esthetic Lens and catch us up on her experience living and working through the pandemic. She touches on releasing anxiety by photographing the changes from light to dusk and describes a lesson in duality and perseverance learned from a mighty Burr Oak.
1. How are you holding up?
I’m holding up all right. My family and I are well, but I grieve the loss of so many people and I miss the ease of how life used to be pre-pandemic. I miss seeing my children and grandchildren in other places.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
COVID-19 has definitely had an effect on my work.
We drove to our Kansas farmhouse in March just before the lockdown started, all the way west across the Mississippi River and through Missouri to central Kansas. During the first days of the lockdown in mid-March, I was shocked to be in a pandemic. I woke up each morning in our old Kansas farmhouse with a sense of dread. The work I’d been doing in Chicago felt meaningless, but I had no idea what else to do. My work is deeply rooted in the places I know and I had photographed almost every inch of the land there over the decades, but none of it called to me then. Each evening we went outside to watch the sunset, which had a calming effect on me. I realized I’d like to make a picture of that light changing from dusk to night and that picture, made up of many images, is what I made during the month of April. The making itself freed me of my anxiety. We saw two full moons in Kansas which you can see in this picture, Night, April 2020.
When we got home again in May, I picked up the work I’d started before we left. It meant something to me again when I was back in place. Back in Chicago, I was able to continue observing and photographing a particular 300-year-old Burr Oak tree that I’d been photographing since January 2019. This is a very large tree with spreading branches that reach out and swoop down in the front like enfolding arms. I say, in front because the branches seem to reach to the east in their fullness. After every visit, it seemed that there was more to see of the tree, so I went back often, never feeling like my work of seeing it was complete. As one season moved into another, the tree changed. I’ve made a picture for each of four seasons plus several more. Each final picture required many visits, a few months of photographing the tree before I began to assemble some of the images into a picture. In July, I finally felt that I had finished photographing the glorious Bur Oak for good. My pictures had begun to look repetitious. I decided to make just make one more compiled picture, just for myself, a sort of final bow to the tree.
Then the next time I visited the Bur Oak, I noticed that a disease had infested it. I could see dark spots and some drying leaves all throughout the foliage up to the top. The discovery of the disease shook me because the Bur Oak had become a touchstone for me as I looked at its 300 plus years of vibrant life. I had particularly depended on being in its presence to lift my spirits during the pandemic. Then the tree got sick. I worried. A friend suggested that I contact the city arborist, which I did. He went to look at the Burr Oak and he told me that the disease was not life-threatening, the tree would survive. He thought it was just showing the effects of little rain in the Spring. I was unconvinced and still saddened that the tree was sick. One day, when I visited it, I saw a pile of trash beneath the most swooping branch. When I looked closely, I saw that the pile contained old long underwear, shirt remnants, a few dirty beer bottles, some used paper cups, and a straw, some crumpled up food wrappers, empty water bottles, and some singed pieces of paper and cloth. The weather was warm and I imagined that a homeless person had spent the night there, rather comfortably, I hoped. The tree knew. I photographed the trash before cleaning it up and I hoped for the best for the person who left the trash. Then I noticed full healthy green leaves at the end of a branch. I realized and saw that the disease and new life could exist together, a pandemic lesson from the Burr Oak. This would be my last picture of the Burr Oak, No Immunity, July to September 2020.
And then Fall came in all its color and I couldn’t help but make one more picture. This one, Against Anxiety, Fall 2020, is the last one of this tree, I think….
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
I’ll be more aware of how interconnected my feelings are to whatever I’m photographing. I’ll add those feelings in the picture titles.
4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
5. Are there any artists, filmmakers, albums, or genres you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?
I’m always drawn to the poetic lyrics of Leonard Cohen and he particularly resonates with me these days. It is the sadness that I hear.
The rest of the pictures are from my series entitled, Ancient Prairies, which is about protected prairies in the Midwest and some protected trees native to a prairie ecosystem. See others on my website, terryevansphotography.com.