Janette Ryan‘s photographs of Puget Sound capture an ethereal side hidden behind the hustle of everyday life. Through her lens, the horizon line dividing sky and sea dissolves into nothingness. Docks and pilings become graphic strokes so pure as to resemble a mysterious language of dots and dashes left behind by humans from an indeterminate age. These visual impressions could have emerged from anywhere, or nowhere. Their origins could be post-apocalyptic – or preceding Tacoma’s emergence as a city, when there were no cars, rails or airplanes. Even her images of iconic structures such as the Narrows Bridge refuse to be pinned down – they brim with a dynamism that seems to call back from the future.
Ryan’s photographs are on exhibit at the Woolworth Building, 11th & Broadway, through Feb. 2012. Her spare, modernist images in black and white attempt to strip away the non-essential to reveal the “beauty and harmony” of nature, she explains. At the same time, they reflect upon “the changing face of Tacoma and the surrounding environment.”
She cites British photographer, Michael Kenna, as an influence. “I love minimalist art and architecture for its clean and simple lines. I was hoping to use those same concepts to photograph our busy urban landscape, with an emphasis on Puget Sound.” Her effects are even more striking when one realizes that the otherworldly landscapes she shoots are mostly popular, well-trafficked sites around Tacoma, such as the Ruston Way waterfront.
Though her imagery possesses a zen-like stillness, the weather sometimes pervades it with an emotional quality: silvery skies brood, clouds press down as if ready to burst with violent rain or slanting sunlight. “Most landscape photographers are out on the pretty days with beautiful sunsets or sunrises,” she notes. “I desire storms, clouds, low light, or the moon, for most of my photographs.” The inclement weather often cooperates. “I always watch the sky around the Northwest, and have found that no two days are ever alike….The Sound itself is fascinating to me, and it plays an important role in my work. It changes colors, and with the wind kicking up waves it takes on a personality all its own that changes day to day, throughout the year.”
Humans are conspicuously absent from Ryan’s photographs, with only eloquent traces of activity left behind. “Our cities and waterways are visually choked with congestion and traffic,” she muses, a fact that requires her to sometimes wait for hours in one location for the perfect shot to arise. “I think that my photographs [convey] that sense of time moving on.” And the result is truly timeless. Untitled, 11th & Broadway (Woolworth Windows), Nov. 15, 2011 – Feb. 28, 2012.