The Great Salt Lake has been a beacon for scientists and artists alike for years. Like any other place warranting so much attention, it becomes progressively more difficult to offer new perspectives on it. Artist Dan Tree has accomplished just that with his show Shoreline Meditations. A simple white-walled gallery space at Bountiful Davis Art Center serves as a fitting setting for the artist’s black and white film abstractions. The works span the diameter of the space, suggesting a path for viewers. As viewers walk from the entryway and back out, they are led in almost a spiral: a walking path reminiscent of a meditation labyrinth.
Tree has utilized The Great Salt Lake as subject matter for his practice for a decade. While he once aimed the lens out toward the expanse of the water, that is no longer the case. During a visit to the lake with his young son, Tree discovered a point of view he had not previously considered. Looking down, rather than outward, offered micro details often looked-over in pursuit of the macro. Tree began to appreciate the abstract compositions offered by the landscape. When speaking of these compositions Tree says, “I always refer to it as finding beauty in the banal. … I feel like I have always been aware of small, still moments out in the world, but this is the first time I strove to find moments that were broken down into an abstract image.”
Tree’s abstractions work much the same way as their abstract painting cousins — communicating with line, form and color alone. Tree shoots film with a 35mm or 50mm lens, and prints his compositions in the darkroom on Ilford cooltone glossy paper. Whether viewers are looking at crusted salt, vegetation dross, or geological phenomenon, one cannot be sure. What is sure, however, is that the images captured by the photographer in turn capture the viewer. While each negative has the potential to facilitate a meditative moment, that is not why the artist chose the name of the series. Tree notes that if he tried too hard “to find a composition, if I forced it the photograph just did not work … but if I went out there and cleared my mind a bit, I was able to reach a state of Zen and had a much higher success rate.” Certainly, a case of art imitating life.
It would be remiss to discuss the shoreline of the Great Salt Lake without acknowledging how much it has changed in recent years. While it once took Tree just a short time to make his way to the water’s edge, due to the lake’s dramatic recession, he now makes the trek on an E-bike. Without the bike it would be a 20-30 minute walk. Tree notes “Although we got a small reprieve with our rain this last year, I know it will all start disappearing again in due time if changes aren’t made.”
In a world that is in constant flux, Tree’s photographs offer a subtle reminder to slow down and examine all life has to offer, big and small.
Dan Tree: Shoreline Meditations, Bountiful Davis Art Center, Bountiful, through Sep. 9
All images courtesy Bountiful Davis Art Center
Heather Hopkins recently received her BA in Art History from the University of Utah. She is also an arts writer for Southwest Contemporary. When she isn’t lost in a museum or art gallery, she can be found hiking and camping with her wife and their cat.