Art and Science:
Going Beneath the Surface for Answers

Sarah Hadley

“While trying to accommodate the growing needs of an expanding, and very thirsty civilization, we are reshaping the Earth in colossal ways. In this new and powerful role over the planet, we are also capable of engineering our own demise. We have to learn to think more long-term about the consequences of what we are doing, while we are doing it.”

Edward Burtynsky

Thus Armour’s images begin to taint the way Glasoe’s images are perceived. Should we read into the deep green or yellow color of the water in Glasoe’s as a sign of hidden pollution? Photographs usually ask us to look more closely at a subject, but in this case, the invisible becomes more meaningful than the visible. 

I find the strongest statement in what seems like the oddest pair: Glasoe’s image of a bright red Radio Flyer wagon sits alone on a beach path, centered between two lifeguard towers, on a sunny day. This photograph is juxtaposed with Armour’s disturbing image of raw sewage in a channel feeding into the lake. Armour has actually applied something to the photograph to replicate the sewage and it appears to spill over the edge of the photograph. Returning to Glasoe’s image, it suddenly seems more alarming, as one begins to question why, despite the obvious heat of the day, we don’t actually see anyone on the lifeguard towers or in the water. And is the empty red wagon a warning sign for the children who swim in this water and are most vulnerable to the hidden dangers? Clearly, these questions and more are ones the artists want you to ask yourself. 

Lake Michigan is cherished by most who live in proximity to it, and is clearly alluring to both of these photographers. But their artwork asks us to reflect deeply on the danger of remaining passive to the important challenges facing the lake today.

I am reminded of this quote when looking at the images of Ted Glasoe and Nelson Armour, both accomplished photographers living on the edge of Lake Michigan. Together, they have used the medium of photography to highlight the harmful and ongoing challenges facing this huge freshwater ecosystem due to various types of pollution. 

At first glance, Glasoe’s images seem to be the more traditional of the two. They are impressive colorful photographs which capture the beauty of the lake and shoreline in different seasons. However, there is an underlying drama to his work as it portrays the forces of nature – wind, sun, rain and ice, and reminds us of the power of this body of water and of Mother Nature. By contrast, Armour’s images, though more muted in tone, immediately pique the viewer’s curiosity. He has modified them – either by overlaying an image of something which symbolizes a pollutant - like a ghostly oil refinery or a corporate logo, or by adding actual items, such as microbeads, to represent the various threats facing the lake. By pairing their work together, Glasoe and Armour have challenged the viewer to look beyond the beauty of the landscape and to see instead the encroaching dangers. 

I always find diptychs interesting as they force the viewer to associate
two seemingly unrelated images. In this case, though all of the images
are of Lake Michigan, the viewer quickly realizes that the underlying
hazard revealed in Armour’s image must also exists in Glasoe’s.