Arts Magazine: Present/On the Road to Bazzano

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Enter the Moment: New Photographs from Italy by JoAnn Verburg are stirring and spiritual.

This is it
This is really it
This is all there is
And it's perfect as it is.
-James Broughton

Over the past sixteen years, American photographer JoAnn Verburg often thought about this poetic passage as she worked in the olive groves near Spoleto, Italy, seeking to capture the moment.

Spoleto is Verburg's beloved second home. In 1984 she and her husband, poet Jim Moore, first saw these olives groves and the woods near Monteluco, a place long considered sacred. St Francis prayed there in solitude more than 800 years ago. Since the mid-1990s, Verburg has spent countless hours in Italy, photographing these trees in the evening light of late summer.

As a consequence of this work, Verburg came to envision "Present/On the Road to Bazanno," an installation sequence of large-scale multiple prints juxtaposed to create a sweep of landscape that surrounds the viewer.

"Present/On the Road to Bazanno" actually encompassed two related groups of pictures. The architectural exhibition features framed, color C-prints, with life-sized details, of both the olive trees of Spoleto and the sacred trees of Monteluco. The prints are up to five-by-fifteen in size.

The exhibition runs from March 9 through May 6, in the Minnesota Artists Gallery.

Verburg was born in 1950, and grew up in New Jersey. Since the mid-1970s, she has worked with a large format camera. She has instigated, curated, or co-created a variety of ambitious projects, including a visiting artists program at Polaroid. Also, the Rephotographic Survey Proect was a long-term collaboration among Verburg, photo historian Ellen Manchester, and geologist/ photographer Mark Klett to make "replicas" (shot from their orginal station points) of a series of photographs of Colorado landmaks made by W.H. Jackson in 1873.

In "Present/On the Road to Bazanno," Verburg fuses the internal with the external, folding images into one another, wrapping the viewer with a virtual landscape of divine light and color. Verburg reveals the peripheral as potent and poetic, giving us a chance to study the fleeting images of life-that sideways flash, that discrete view from the corner of your eye. In some of Verburg's life-sized photographs the peripheral blur creates a sense of movement, pulling the viewer into the virtual space of the photograph.

Verburg's vision became a reality with the generous contribution of the photo lab Pictura, which provided the requisite printing time with master printer Bruce Berry. Throughout the month of December 2000, Verburg worked closely with Berry, printing nearly all the images in the exhibition.

Verburg reminds us of the pleasure of looking at a leaf grown on a living organism, centuries old. She reminds us of our own physicality. We remember what it feels like to scan the natural world, breathing in the dust and the pollen, hearing the birds and the insects. She shows us again the splendor of being incarnate, of being in this body now, at this moment. "What I am trying to do is create, through art, the feeling of being blessed," says Verburg.

Her trees wrap us in their light. They are quiet, but perhaps they do know the truth. This is it. This is all there is.

Citation: Cynde Randall, "On/The Road to Bazzanno",Art 24, No. 2 (March 2001):18-19.