Lights, Camera, Action For 3rd Aotearoa Music Photography Award


The Auckland Festival of Photography Trust is delighted
to announce the 2023 Music Photography Award | Whakaahua
Puoro Toa is accepting entries now through to 20th May, with
1st and 2nd prize winners announced on 26 May in

Music photography
is an art form; whether it’s a community event, a big
festival highlights or a gig review, photography is always
there. It’s a wonderful cultural activity. We welcome and
look forwards to some great entries and offering some
prizes” – Julia Durkin MNZM the founder/CEO, Auckland
Festival of Photography (parent brand for ‘Image Auckland’),
“all our Awards underpin our Festival commitment to
profiling NZ photographic

As a part of our
20th anniversary Festival and for participation in the
Festival’s Awards we invite any NZ based photographer to
send in your best images on a music theme for the 2023 Award

Submit on our website from 1-20 May:

2023 Music Photo Award boasts Prizes –

1st prize:
NZ$1250 cash

2nd prize: NZ$500 cash

Choice prize – $250 Prezzy card (like a preloaded debit
card). Decided by public vote. People’s Choice prize winner
announced 31st May online.

Prizes sponsored by The
Bass Player Ltd and Pacific Culture and Arts Development

Participation in the future exhibitions
in 2024 plus other digital/projections/promotion of the
prize winning images. Terms and conditions apply.

support of the music photography scene, the image auckland
[tamaki makaurau] Queens Wharf Fence exhibition is on show
now and during the rest of May, alongside NZ Music Month and
image auckland [tamaki makaurau] lead in activities to the
announcement of the 2023 Award winners which will take place
in Auckland in May. Providing a diverse and inclusive
platform, for the exchange of ideas, artistic expression,
and engagement with photography and visual

This award is presented by Image Auckland
[tāmaki makaurau]. An Auckland Festival of Photography




09-307-7055 Message Service only / 0274-735-443

Level 17, Commercial Bay Tower, 11 – 19 Custom St West,
Auckland CBD 1010

Registered Trust No:CC38839 –
Support our Festival, go to:

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Ansel Adams exhibit mulls nature amid a changing climate | Art


Ansel Adams created some of the definitive photographs of the Western American landscape long before climate change threatened to obliterate it forever. Born in San Francisco in 1902, Adams is best remembered for his lush black-and-white pictures of the Yosemite Valley and the Southwest, as well as for his role as an educator who influenced generations of photographers after him.

Now, the de Young — the site of Adams’s first exhibition in 1932 — hosts “Ansel Adams in Our Time,” a major retrospective organized in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, examining the artist’s legacy in relationship with the work of 23 contemporary environmental photographers breaking new ground in the genre.

While the exhibition is full of iconic Adams shots, like “Clearing Winter Storm,” c. 1937, or “Moon and Half Dome,” 1960, both made in Yosemite National Park and many deep cuts, the artist’s work is only a jumping off point.

Richard Misrach’s “Golden Gate Bridge” series, shot from the back porch of his home in the Berkeley Hills, responds directly to Adams’s “The Golden Gate Before the Bridge,” 1932, a breathtaking view of the mouth of the Bay between the Presidio and Marin Headlands – sans bridge. Mark Klett implements collage to converse with Adams and other seminal landscape photographers. The titular view of “View from the handrail at Glacier Point overlook, connecting views from Ansel Adams to Carleton Watkins,” 2003, photographed in color by Klett, is overlaid with collage elements snipped from Adams and Watkins’s earlier black-and-white pictures.

By returning to the source, both artists play to photography’s chronological promise, revealing how much – and how little – has changed.

Others are more concerned with interrogating the act of looking itself, challenging the ubiquity of the White male gaze. Catherine Opie’s landscapes, like “Untitled #1 (Yellowstone Valley),” 2015, respond to and contradict Adams in almost every way: colorful and completely out of focus. Binh Danh’s daguerreotypes of Yosemite, a printing process using a highly copper surface, mirror the viewer in the image.

Both Opie and Dahn’s pictures raise the question of how who looks changes what they see, placing the viewer inside the landscapes they photograph. In fact, the traditional absence of humans from many landscape photographers’ work, including Adams’s, presents a bit of cognitive dissonance: The human footprint is increasingly present in nature, from population growth to climate change, while the particular absence of people in Western landscapes carries colonialist connotations. What you don’t see is just as important as what you do.

Some photographers of Adams’s era attempted more ethnographic projects, like Adam Clark Vroman’s 19th-century playing card sets, illustrated with photographs of Native Americans and sold as souvenirs. Contrast that with Will Wilson’s contemporary portraits of Native Americans like “Nakotah LaRance,” 2012, a young man carrying a portable video game system and a comic book, or Wilson’s own self-portrait “How the West is One,” 2014. Wilson’s diptych represents the artist on both sides: on one, Wilson is dressed in Indigenous cultural garb; on the other, he’s dressed like a cowboy, each staring gravely into his reflection’s eyes. Here, we get a clear view of what’s missing from the supposedly objective presentation of the hauntingly empty landscape.

While Adams’s vision of the West became ubiquitous, it was itself far from objective. Credited with several advancements on the technical side of photography, he studiously crafted many of his images post-production, often combining multiple negatives and using all the darkroom trickery available to him to create impossibly breathtaking views. These technological experimentations were cutting edge at the time, and his work continues to be at home in the company of similarly daring experimenters.

Chris McCaw and Meghann Riepenhoff both play fast and loose with the negative, accentuating the illustrative — even painterly — quality photography can possess. McCaw, who builds his own giant cameras, outfitted with periscope lenses, makes long-exposure photographs in which the trajectory of the sun burns its way across paper negatives over time. Riepenhoff’s pieces are contact prints made by exposing photo-sensitive paper to various natural phenomena, like ice, in addition to light. It’s a level of integration with nature Adams never achieved, embedding nature into their work in an inversion of human’s impact on their


In one of his rare, urban landscapes, “Housing Development, San Bruno Mountains, San Francisco,” 1966, Adams turns his own lens on the direct impact of development, a zigzag of prefab homes tearing through the hillside. Compared to Adams’s earlier nature shots, this feels like a slap in the face, forcing the viewer to confront the degradation of the landscape. There’s a way in which all of Adams’s photos could be considered depictions of humanity’s impact on the land, and the continued impact on the land is fully displayed by his contemporary counterparts.

Mitch Epstein approaches environmentalism through absurdism. In “Altamont Pass Wind Farm, California,” 2007, the arid wind farm serves as a backdrop for a group of golfers playing on the green course that abuts it. “Signal Hill, Long Beach, California,” 2007, offers a scene of an oil pump wedged between homes in a suburban neighborhood, showcasing the intersection of industrial greed, urban sprawl and willful ignorance. Laura McPhee’s diptych “Early Spring (Peeling Bark in Rain),” 2008, is a view into a dense forest of burned trees, the soot-black bark of each trunk peeling away to uncover new growth beneath. It’s a heartbreaking record of wildfire damage, with a hint of a promising future.

The beauty of the natural world has grown bittersweet. Every picture in the exhibition is gorgeous, sublime enough to teach the Hudson River School a lesson, but they’re hard to look at without recalling recent and increasing environmental travesties in the Bay Area and beyond.

By avoiding the sort of didactics often present in climate activism, Adams and company remind us what we have to lose by showing us why we love it, doing so without sacrificing any of the complex dynamics present in humanity’s relationship to the land. These pictures aren’t for posterity: they’re a reminder that time is running out.


Famed abstract artists capture nature as you’ve never seen it before


Hilma af Klint The Ten Largest, Group IV, No. 9, Old Age, 1907 Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation

Hilma af Klint, The Ten Largest, Group IV, No. 9, Old Age, 1907.

Hilma af Klint Foundation

AT THE Tate Modern gallery in London, two pioneering artists who never met are finally brought into conversation.

Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian trained as landscape painters in the late 19th century – af Klint in Sweden, Mondrian in the Netherlands. They also died in the same year, 1944, by which time each had developed a unique abstract style.

Both worked in an era coming to terms with huge advances in microscopy, radiography and photography. The world available to the human senses had been revealed as a mere sliver of that accessible to science.

Each artist’s output included what we would now call scientific “visualisation”. Af Klint conveyed insights about how things grow in paintings inspired by botanical illustration, as in No. 9, Old Age from The Ten Largest series (main image).

Piet Mondrian Arum Lily; Blue flower, 1908-1909 Kunstmuseum Den Haag ? bequest Salomon B. Slijper

Arum Lily; Blue flower 1908-1909. Kunstmuseum Den Haag

Bequest Salomon B. Slijper.j

Mondrian’s interest in the mechanics of visual perception saw him break images down to their perceptual units, so that his Arum Lily; Blue flower (pictured above) is an assembly of lines, lozenge shapes and diagonals.

Serie W, Nr 1. Kunskapens tr?d, 1913 Akvarell, gouache, blyerts, metallf?rg och bl?ck p? papper 45,7 ? 29,5 cm HAK133 Hilma af Klint, Tree of Knowledge, The W Series, No. 1, 1913. Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation?

Hilma af Klint, Tree of Knowledge, The W Series, No. 1, 1913.

Hilma af Klint Foundation

Af Klint’s “world tree” paintings grew almost diagrammatic in their effort to express the cosmic connections between all life, as in Tree of Knowledge (pictured above). Her attempts to map her own perceptual associations are more startling still.

Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, nr 19. Svanen, nr 19, 1915 Olja p? duk 148,5 ? 152 cm HAK167 ? Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk Hilma af Klint, The Swan, The SUW Series, Group IX, No. 19, 1914-1915. Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation

Hilma af Klint, The Swan, The SUW Series, Group IX, No. 19, 1914-1915.

Hilma af Klint Foundation

The two works above and below are the culmination of a series that began with an image of two swans. Shown here are The Swan, No. 19 (pictured above) and No. 17 (pictured below), from The SUW Series, Group IX.

Serie SUW/UW, Grupp IX/SUW, nr 17. Svanen, nr 17, 1915 Olja p? duk 150,5 ? 151 cm HAK165 ? Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk Hilma af Klint, The Swan, The SUW Series, Group IX, No. 17, 1914-1915. Courtesy of The Hilma af Klint Foundation

The Swan, The SUW Series, Group IX, No. 17, 1914-1915

Hilma af Klint Foundation

Hilma af Klint and Piet Mondrian: Forms of life is at the Tate Modern until 3 September.



Nature’s beauty, protection inspires ‘Made in NY’ artists


AUBURN — Many of artists featured in “Made in NY 2023,” which opens March 25 at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, have been inspired by nature.

For some, such as Maureen Church, of Rochester, the goal with her piece “Erie Canal at Dusk” is to capture the beauty around them.

“These paintings are part of a series based on my recent plein air landscape works,” Church said in her artist’s statement. “I use rich colors and wild brushwork to represent the beauty I see in nature.”

Other artists focus on a particular aspect of nature. Henry J. Drexler, of Norwich, still lives near the dairy farm where he grew up. His artwork “Bovine Madness XXXV” begins with images of cows that he manipulates to eliminate depth.

“Whether painted in black and white or fanciful hues, I strive for playful, abstract works of bovine madness,” he said.

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Artist Joyce Hertzson, of Pittsford, actually uses bits of nature in creating her artwork “After the (F)fall,” printing leaves and branches on rag paper.

“The finished print is always full of surprises,” she said in her artist’s statement. “Even using the same set of elements and process, I am never guaranteed the same outcome.”

Other artists use their creations to warn of humans’ abuse of nature. Saranac Lake artist Barry Lobdell’s photograph “Chevron Sky” was taken Nov. 6, when the temperature reached 70 degrees.

“Not a normal temperature for Saranac Lake in November,” he said.

While the weather made for a beautiful photo, he asked: “Is this beauty only skin deep, hiding within it the danger which is inherent in our unnaturally warming planet?”

Bill Hastings, of Ithaca, is a naturalist and gardener who is acutely aware of humans’ impact on nature.

“Every action has an impact,” he said. So with his piece “Sway,” he does his part to reduce, reuse and recycle by “utilizing a ubiquitous material that seems unavoidable in contemporary culture: plastics.”

Concern for the environment led Cyndy Barbone, of Greenwich, to alter her art-making material for her work “Our Rights Are Protected in New York State.” Conscious of the growing water crisis, she decided to stop dyeing her yarn.

“I have replaced color with white or natural by using varying thicknesses of linen to explore how transparency and density in weave structure can convey images, thereby eliminating the vast amount of water used in dyeing,” she said in her artist’s statement. “The illusion of light in the resulting work is a powerful metaphor for the human spirit.”

A total of 320 artists submitted 480 entries for this year’s “Made in NY” exhibition. Jurors Gary Sczerbaniewicz, Theda Sandiford and Kevin Larmon selected 81 pieces from 79 artists for the show, which will run Saturday, March 25, through Sunday, May 28, at the Schweinfurth. The free opening reception will be 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and prize winners will be announced at 6 p.m.

Cayuga County-area artists in the show include Mnetha Warren, of Aurora (“Wonder Bread,” 2022), Denise Moody, of Skaneateles (“Her Trunk,” 2023) and Donalee Wesley, of Marcellus (“The Revelation,” 2023).

The exhibition is funded, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

The exhibition will open along with two others at the Auburn gallery: “Triggered, Truth & Transformation” exhibition by New Jersey artist Theda Sandiford and “Positive, Negative, Shallow, and Deep,” by Oswego artist Tyrone Johnson-Neuland. (Editor’s note: Each exhibition will be featured in an upcoming edition of The Citizen’s entertainment guide, Go, and on

Maria Welych is marketing director for the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, a multi-arts center that opened in 1981 thanks to a bequest from Auburn-born architect Julius Schweinfurth. The center’s programs include more than a dozen exhibitions each year and educational programs for children and adults, which feature local, national and international artists. For more information, call (315) 255-1553 or visit


The Photo Finale winners from the first Napa Valley Mustard Celebration


YOUNTVILLE — The exhibition of entries in the first Photo Finale, part of the Napa Valley Mustard Celebration, is on display at the Jessup Cellars Gallery in Yountville through March 31. 

The open invitation photography competition is the brainchild of Napa Valley photographer MJ Schaer, who started working on the idea in September 2022. Schaer said his goal was “to attract professional and amateur photographers throughout the wine country to break out their cameras and capture that one-of-a-kind image.”

Schaer, who served director as well as founder for the inaugural photo competition, said he was pleased with the response, which brought in 72 submissions from 44 photographers, all studies of the wild mustard plant that blooms in profusion throughout the valley and serves as a cover crop in vineyards during the winter.

The show opened at Jessup on March 4. It “celebrates nature’s unmatched ‘yellow gold’ beauty and (the) splendor of the winter mustard bloom that blankets Napa Valley’s landscape and vineyards, up and down the valley from December through March,” Schaer said. 

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Photographers had four categories from which to choose: landscape; people/pets; innovative and food and wine.

Judging from the winners, dogs proved to be a popular choice for subjects appreciating mustard. 

Schaer said the first, second, third and honorable mentions ribbons have been awarded to the top four photographs in each of the 2023 categories.

— First place: Dean Busquaert

— Second place: MJ Schaer

— Third place: Nancy Hernandez

— Honorable Mention: Jena Kaeppeli

— First place: Kennedy Schultz

— Second place: Lyra Nerona

— Third place: Marilyn Ferrante

— Honorable Mention: Ronda Schaer

— First place: Francine Marie

— Second place: Katherine Zimmer

— Third place: Francine Marie

— Honorable Mention: Hilary Brodey

There were no entries in the food and wine category this year, Schaer said. 

Voting for Peoples’ Choice is open until March 29 in the Gallery at Jessup Cellars, Schaer said. The Peoples’ Choice award will be announced on March 30 at the closing reception from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The show “has been a big success,” Schaer said. “Plans for 2024 are already in the works.

“I am so pleased with the entry submissions by professional and amateur photographers,” he said. “The unique facility at Jessup Cellars Gallery gives the exhibition a true wine country setting and experience.

“This year, Nature’s Mustard Plant is getting the recognition throughout Napa Valley that it deserves.”

Artist Jessel Miller, owner of the Jessel Gallery in Napa, led the effort to re-establish a winter celebration of mustard after the demise of the Napa Valley Mustard Festival in 2010. The idea took off this year, inspiring everything from mustard infused menus at restaurants to mustard treatments at local spas, as well as mustard-inspired art. 

A complete list of Mustard Celebration activities can be found on the website,

Photo Finale 2023 exhibition at Jessup Cellars Gallery, 6740 Washington Street, Yountville, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily. The photographs are available for purchase. For more information, visit the 

Check out Napa Valley’s 2021 mustard bloom. The yellow flower has carpeted the valley.


Annual Juried Photography Show returns to Ocean City Arts Center


On March 15th 2023, in Ocean City, a town hall meeting addressing proposed offshore wind farm was held at the Tabernacle.

OCEAN CITY — Browse more than 40 photos from photographers across the region during the Ocean City Arts Center’s annual Juried Photography Show, on display daily starting April 1.

Photographers from Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties, and as far as Pennsylvania, submitted more than 125 works, with 40 selected by the show’s judges. The photographed subjects include landscapes, wildlife, architecture and people.

To be selected, judges examined certain aspects of the image, such as the overall emotional feel, techniques used and presentation. 

Guests can join a Meet the Artists reception from 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 14 at the gallery, located in the Ocean City Arts Center, 1735 Simpson Ave., 2nd Floor. The show will be on display through April 27.

Hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 609-399-7628.


Photo Finale show opens March 4


Yountville — “This year, nature’s mustard plant is getting the recognition throughout Napa Valley that it deserves,” says Napa Valley photographer MJ Schaer.

Schaer is the founder and director of the first Photo Finale 2023, an open invitation photography exhibition in alliance with the 2023 Napa Valley Mustard Celebration, which will premiere on March 4 at Jessup Cellars Gallery and continue through March 31.

The Photo Finale 2023 has been in the making since last fall when professional photographer Schaer set out to attract professional and amateur photographers throughout wine country to break out their cameras and capture that one-of-a-kind image.

Photo Finale 2023 will exhibit 72 works by 46 photographers showcasing the beauty of Nature’s winter mustard season in the Napa Valley.

The Photo Finale Photography Exhibition will celebrate the “yellow gold” beauty and splendor of the wnter mustard lobom that blankets Napa Valley’s landscape and vineyards from December thrrough March.

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Photographers have four categories to choose from: Landscape, People/Pets, Innovative and Food & Wine, to apply their photographic creativity and skills.

First, second, third and Honorable Mention ribbons will be awarded to the top four photographs in each category. A Peoples Choice Award will be presented at the closing reception on Friday, March 31.

Schaer said, “I am so pleased with the tally of entry submissions by professional and amateur photographers for this first annual event, and to have the unique gallery facility at Jessup Cellars Gallery gives the exhibition a true wine country setting and experience for Napa Valley’s Mustard Celebration 2023.”

Photo Finale 2023 Exhibition at Jessup Cellars Gallery, 6740 Washington Street, Yountville CA. 94599 is open to the public, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily.

Photo Finale 2023 Exhibition Photographs will be available for purchase.

For more information, visit

A combination of seed shortages due to warming climates, rising glass and cardboard prices and soaring prices for white wine mean you could be paying more for mustard soon.


The Artist Who Collaborates with Ants


An installation view of Chalmers’s “Builders of Greatness.”Art work by Catherine Chalmers / Courtesy The Drawing Center: Photograph by Daniel Terna

On her first trek through the rain forest, in 2000, the artist Catherine Chalmers noticed movement on the ground near her feet. It was a parade of thousands of leaf-cutter ants. “There’s these perfectly cleaned pathways that the ants make and maintain, and they carry bright-green leaves,” Chalmers told me recently. “And so you saw this ribbon, almost like a drawing. Green, flickering, because light shimmers on them. I didn’t know they existed. And it was really, really beautiful.”

Chalmers wanted to work with the ants, but didn’t know how. “I’m interested in that place where nature meets culture,” she said. The more complicated the interface, the better: around this time, she was exploring humans’ relationship with cockroaches. But, by comparison, the ants seemed almost too natural to work with artistically. “They’re of the forest,” she said. “We think of them as the other.” What would it mean to make art about our relationship with such creatures?

Chalmers mulled over the idea for years, steeping herself in the science of leaf-cutters. The more she learned, the more connections she saw between them and us. While the ants may be of the forest, they’re also intensely social—urban, even, in their extensive underground lairs. In a 2011 book, “The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct,” the biologists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson suggest that “if visitors from another star system had visited Earth a million years ago, before the rise of humanity, they might have concluded that leafcutter colonies were the most advanced societies this planet would ever be able to produce.” For two decades, Chalmers followed this trail of thought. Last month, we stood inside a culmination of that work—a solo exhibit at the Drawing Center, in SoHo, titled “Catherine Chalmers: We Rule,” which comprised twenty-four drawings, a twenty-foot photo print, four videos, and an installation, which together evoked how much both humans and ants have busied themselves dominating and altering their environments. (It ran through January 15th.)

Chalmers, who is sixty-five and has an athlete’s poise—in addition to being an artist, she’s an accomplished figure skater—led me through the gallery. On one wall, sixteen drawings depicted ants in chambers and tunnels that formed a larger colony. There are around fifty species of leaf-cutter ant, and nests differ among them, but a nest can span five hundred square feet—“As big as this gallery here,” Chalmers noted—sometimes reaching twenty feet below the ground and containing thousands of chambers the size of a cabbage. Inside, there can be millions of ants supporting a queen who survives for more than a decade.

Human agriculture has shaped the planet for millennia, but leaf-cutters began cultivating food at scale millions of years earlier. The ants are responsible for a quarter of all plant consumption in their ecosystems; worker ants might travel two hundred yards to collect leaf clippings, cutting tons of plant material a year. Back home, adults drink the leaf sap while feeding the clippings to a fungus that they grow in their nests. They then harvest the fungus, feeding it to their larvae. To prevent a different fungus from taking over their “fields,” some leaf-cutters cultivate bacteria that produces antibiotics which the ants spread around their garden—a form of pest control.

The ants demonstrate a “chemical mastery” over their environment, Chalmers said. But, at the same time, they are enmeshed in a symbiotic system. “We think the ants are calling the shots, just as we think that we are deciding, when we go to a restaurant, what we want to eat,” she told me. “But the more that I’ve read about the microbiome”—the bacteria and viruses inside us that keep us alive and sometimes make us sick—“the more it seems that microorganisms are greatly influencing the choices that we make.” There’s a sense in which the bacteria in our guts “want” sugar, and so we order ice cream. It’s possible that the ants’ fungal gardens act like their microbiomes, influencing which plants a colony forages. Perhaps it’s not the ants that “rule” the rain forest but the fungus. “I’m not a scientist,” Chalmers said. “So I can speculate on these things and just observe and wonder.”

At the heart of “We Rule” is a set of four videos about ants that evoke core aspects of human culture: language, ritual, war, and art. The filmmaking began in 2007, when an art collector who had seen Chalmers’s earlier work invited her to his private island off the coast of Panama, where he also hosts scientists. Chalmers accepted the offer once she learned that the island had leaf-cutters. Working outside the studio was daunting: to set up a shoot, she’d clear brush to avoid bites from snakes and scorpions, then dig a hole to view the ants at their level.

The language-themed film that emerged from the trip is a four-minute piece called “We Rule.” Up close, amid a cacophony of bird and insect sounds, we see ants munching through green leaves and pink petals. Then, somehow, they’re munching the leaves into perfectly trimmed capital letters; by the film’s end, the ants march along, conveying the titular message, while a chorus of howler monkeys cheers them on. (The film is not computer-animated; the ants really did carry tiny letters made by Chalmers.) Ants are always “sharing data,” Chalmers said—sending signals about threats, food location, and leaf quality through pheromones and vibrations called stridulations, which they create by rubbing parts of their bodies together. “Somehow, in this exchange, they go to war, they decide what they’re going to harvest, how many tunnels, how many chambers. And without central command.” The film gives the ants a chance to boast about their inhuman coördination.

The roots of “We Rule” go back to the nineteen-eighties. Chalmers was earning an M.F.A. at the Royal College of Art, in London; she’d come to admire cuneiform-inscribed neo-Assyrian tablets at the British Museum and elsewhere. She tracked down a translation of the cuneiform text. Essentially, it says, “with little variation, ‘We rule, we conquer, you suck,’ ” she told me. Working with the leaf-cutters, she thought back to the tablets’ imperialistic message. “They’re a little bit a stand-in for us,” she said, of the ants. Making the film, she’d hoped to induce them to carry ten passages from the tablets, but it took her two days just to get six letters in the right order.

Chalmers grew up in San Mateo, California, the daughter of an electrical engineer and a landscape painter. She wasn’t into bugs as a kid, but the family liked animals; she had a bird, and brought it to breakfast and sleepovers. At Stanford, she declared her major, engineering, before classes even started, so that she could secure a spot in a popular course on visual thinking. She took almost enough studio courses to qualify as an art major and, after college, got a job at Mattel, designing toys. Her engineering background has helped her solve the puzzles of art production. How do you build a set that induces insects to behave a certain way? How do you film and light it?

Her work with insects began when she moved to New York, after her M.F.A. As an experiment, she started putting dead leaves and flies on her canvases; when she ran out of flies, she started raising them. The flies swarming in her terrarium entranced her, so she asked her neighbor to teach her photography. He lent her equipment, which she used to make her first book, “Food Chain.” At first, she was a little sickened by the idea behind the project: “I was going to raise animals to feed to another animal,” she said. “But, the more I thought about it, and the more horrified I was, the more it made sense, because one of the drivers of civilization is to remove ourselves or to have control over the food chain.”

Chalmers started with a red tomato. She applied turquoise tobacco hornworms, which burrowed their way through the fruit’s juicy flesh; she then fed the hornworms to a praying mantis, which she fed to a frog. She also raised mice, feeding pink babies to a snake and a second frog. “Baby mice are like nature’s Cheerios,” she said. “I mean, everything eats them.” Starting in the early nineties, the photos were presented at shows around the country. “Boy, did I get hate mail,” Chalmers recalled. Viewers who could tolerate a photograph of a praying mantis shredding a larva drew the line at seeing a snake swallow a mouse whole. “Predation is essentially what keeps the ecosystem going,” Chalmers said. “There’s no way around it.”

She leaned into her own queasiness. “I would see a cockroach and I would lose it,” she said, so, interested in “our adversarial relationship with nature,” she began making films and photographs in which cockroaches are disguised as more palatable creatures, or living in tiny houses, or being executed in a gas chamber or electric chair. One film, “Safari,” depicting the domestic bugs exploring a jungle, was called “perversely entertaining” and “deeply Darwinian” by Time Out and the Times, respectively, and won the 2008 Jury Award for Best Experimental Short at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The work encourages us to empathize with bugs. One reason they disgust us, Chalmers believes, is that they seem immoral, or at least differently moral. “We see ourselves as individuals,” she said. “And we see insects as being this uniform, formless mass that will sacrifice themselves and do all these sorts of things.” Some of her photos capture a praying mantis eating the head of her mate. “Civilization is a march for greater and greater and greater control over the world,” she said. But nature doesn’t play by our rules.

Another of Chalmers’s admirers owned many acres on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, which contained multiple leaf-cutter colonies. The other three ant films were made there. “The dynamics between the colonies—it was a little bit like ‘Game of Thrones,’ where the same species in the same habitat had markedly different personalities,” Chalmers said. To make “The Chosen,” a film about ritual, in which ants carry flowers to a large golden idol of an ant, she collected flowers and presented them to all the large colonies within range of her lights. She coaxed certain ants into climbing over the idol, which scented it with their pheromones and would entice other ants to traverse it, before she placed it in a set depicting an underground chamber. The ants sometimes drop their flowers when they hit impediments. “And so they started burying the idol,” Chalmers said. “I thought it was perfect, because in a way it’s something that we wouldn’t do. It’s as if they’re burying their idol with nature, as if somehow nature trumps religion.” As the ritual proceeds, we hear the sounds of a Himalayan bell.

For her third film, “War,” Chalmers found a large colony that sent ants out each night. A smaller, neighboring colony had arrived at the opposite strategy, sending its ants out during the day and getting them home before nightfall. At night, some ants from the two colonies crossed paths; at the spot where they’d meet, she set out a white sheet and lights, then recorded the ants as they fought. As moody music plays, the film shows hordes of small ants ganging up on lumbering soldiers many times their size. The ants mince each other until only scattered piles of bodies and limbs remain. “You had this David-and-Goliath situation,” Chalmers said. The film is less than four minutes long, but the battles she watched would last for hours.

Chalmers sees the ants as her collaborators. In “Antworks”—the fourth film, which focusses on art—“their idea was much better than mine,” she said. Originally, in “War,” she’d planned to use time-lapse footage of ants stripping a branch, because “oftentimes the degradation of nature or the environment in a place leads to civil conflict,” but couldn’t get the ants to do it. Eventually, though, she noticed a colony near the beach stripping a colorful plant she’d thought was toxic to them. She used a machete to hack a branch off the plant and brought it back to her filming area. In “Antworks,” the ants lift the pieces, which are abstract and colorful in appearance, and then affix them to a flat rock wall. By the end, they’ve put nine striped and spotted leaf cuttings on the wall in a row, as if in an art gallery.


Entries arriving for February nature art showcase | News


Entries for the Council on Greenways and Trails’ February Nature Art Showcase and Sale have started to arrive.

Among the original artwork depicting outdoor recreation, natural resources, and landscapes already registered, included are acrylic paintings, oil paintings, traditional and digital photography, alcohol ink on tiles, fabrics dyed with botanical items, wooden plaques, and other media.

This free public display is held in the lobby of the Barrow-Civic Theatre in downtown Franklin that Feb. 3 from 5 to 7 p.m. and Feb. 4 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For example, Anna Applegate is an amateur artist who resides in Pinegrove Township in Venango County. She dabbles in nature photography and painting; one of her entries is shown with this article. Entitled “A Brief Pause,” the full-color digital photograph captures a female ruby-throated hummingbird hovering by an orange blossom.

Franklin’s Neal Parker had a long career in conservation and art; in the 1980s his paintings tended to focus on wildlife, but then he waited another 29 years before to returning to painting. He will share with showcase attendees the second painting he completed after that long pause; it’s acrylic on Masonite, entitled “Wood Fern.” Each participating artist may enter one or two items of any size in the seventh annual Nature Art Showcase and Sale, conducted indoors during the “Franklin On Ice” Festival.

Artist registrations are free, but they need to be received by Jan. 18 in order for the information to be included in a complimentary printed program provided to all guests. Registration packets may be picked up in person at the Clarion Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Titusville Council on the Arts, the Victorian City Art & Frame in Franklin; French Creek Framing and Fine Art in Meadville, The Gallery at New Bethlehem Town Center, and Penn Soil Resource Conservation & Development Council on Conewango Avenue in Warren. Registration instructions and forms may also be downloaded from the Council on Greenways and Trails’ website


Bloomington-raised poet, photographer talks Midwest stories for TEDx


Is ‘flyover country’ an appropriate moniker for the Midwestern U.S., or other overlooked places in the world? Through photography & poetry, this talk explores that question through inspection of the overlooked or the avoided: rust; thunderstorms; work; everyday people doing everyday things; politics; social class; et cetera.

A lifelong Midwesterner, Justin Hamm is the author of four poetry collections, two poetry chapbooks, and a book of photographs. His most recent book is Drinking Guinness With the Dead: Poems 2007-2021 (Spartan Press 2022) . . .

BLOOMINGTON — Most Midwesterners, like Justin Hamm, can say they once had childhood dreams of leaving their hometowns for somewhere “things are really happening.”

Now 42, Hamm is speaking about how he changed his perspective on life in the Midwest through the power of poetry and lens of a camera. The 1998 graduate of Normal West Community High School was featured in a TEDxOshkosh talk published Wednesday on YouTube, titled, “The American Midwest: A Story in Poems & Photographs.”


Bloomington-native Justin Hamm, in Mexico, Missouri, holds a stack of his poetry books in this provided photo from 2022. He was recently featured in a TEDxOshkosh talk.

Hamm, who mainly grew up in Bloomington, theorized before listeners in November 2022 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that “there really is no such place as nowhere.

Everywhere is somewhere, and everywhere has a story to (it) we can uncover if you learn to use the poet’s or the photographer’s eye.”

Pushing back against negative stereotypes about the region, like the “flyover country” label, he said the Midwest has kept him artistically busy and interested. Some of the prose recited by Hamm told of the beauty of a rust, “the mysteries of barn wood” and forgetting his jockstrap for a double-header baseball game.

Read this Wednesday, June 10, 1998 file story covering a Normal West High School baseball game against Olney High School, including quotes by then-catcher Justin Hamm.

The former catcher for the Normal Wildcats chanted verses of “Until Death Do Us Part,” as photo slides showing the exterior of Keller’s Iron Skillet & Catering in Bloomington were displayed. He drew parallels in his poem “Rust — Or Perhaps Fine Art” between decay and impressionist painting.

In a Friday interview with The Pantagraph, he said he tries to take photographs that would make good poems: “Quiet little scenes that illustrate something about the region.”

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“Experience another life.”

Hamm explained the title of his latest poetry book, “Drinking Guinness with the Dead.” Drawing from three other previously released books, it was released in March 2022 by Spartan Press, and contains material dated between 2007 and 2021. Hamm said it also has a “book’s worth” of new poems to go with it.

He said one meaning of the title refers to having a few beverages before revising older material. It was weird reading back in time, and he didn’t seem to care or relate to it at first. But Hamm said he didn’t want that to be the case.

He said going back also made him realize he wasn’t doing enough to publicize that work.

Reflecting on his piece titled “A real team effort,” he said he hoped to capture awfully embarrassing moments of adolescence and bring them to life. Hamm said many have told him they can relate.


Poet-photographer and former Bloomington resident Justin Hamm is shown in this 2021 self-portrait.

“They get to experience another life for a while,” he said.

That teleportation also extends to his photography work. Showing stills of rusted-out cars, he said countless people have told them that model was the first they owned.

At another poetry reading and photography showing, Hamm said two farmers lectured him about why a particular style of corn crib was built in Central Illinois but not in South Dakota, because of the immigrants who settled in those regions.


Shown in this 2019 photo provided by poet and photographer Justin Hamm, formerly of Bloomington, is a Central Illinois barn.

See with different eyes

Hamm said he never left the Midwest. He said he got married and went to school in the region, and moved to Mexico, Missouri, where he currently works as a librarian for Eugene Fields Elementary School. He’s a husband to his wife Mel Hamm, and father to two daughters: Abbey, 13, and 9-year-old Sophie Hamm.

He attended MacMurray College in Jacksonville to play baseball, also where he met his wife, and said he got more involved in the English department after hurting his arm. Hamm also explored fiction writing, but said he knew he “was always a poet at heart.”

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Coming back to poetry over time, he said he found success. He did his masters of fine arts degree at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and followed another Bloomington native who was coaching wrestling in Mexico, Missouri.

Knowing his best friend “Martin” would be there and his wife liked the school district, he said it was a good landing destination. Hamm said they haven’t found any reason to relocate since they moved there in 2005.

Hamm also edited his startup literary magazine, Museum of Americana, for 10 years. Then in 2019, his poem “Goodbye, Sancho Panza“ was studied by 50,000 students worldwide through the World Scholar’s Cup curriculum.

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Around 2009, Hamm said his mother died and he had his first child. That’s when he said he realized his roots are in the Midwest, and leaving was not a certainty. Hamm said he thought he’d better start trying to see things with different eyes.

“Everything that happens in this region is a microcosm of the biggest conflicts and struggles, and also the most beautiful things in the world,” he said.

He said these experiences teach us lessons in human psychology, social interactions and the dichotomy of rural versus urban. There are many different perspectives to view through stories and images, he said, like immigrant experiences and sights of beautiful landscapes.

“When I started to stop and pay attention, I realized how deep that history really is,” said Hamm.

To keep up with Hamm, and read or purchase his work, go to

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison