In Take Me to the River, Michael Kolster explores four American rivers that flow into the Atlantic Ocean – the Androscoggin, Schuylkill, James, and Savannah – as they emerge from two centuries of industrial use and neglect. Even as these well-known rivers still carry the legacies of longstanding pollution in their currents and sediments, thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972, they have become renewed and rediscovered waterways that our grandparents never could have envisioned.
Kolster's new book is a masterful presentation of dramatic yet understated photographs of these rivers, from their source to the sea. In the spirit of nineteenth-century photographers such as Louis Daguerre, Henry Talbot Fox, and Timothy O'Sullivan, they were made using the wet-plate photographic process, in a portable darkroom Kolster set up along the banks and overlooks of these rivers. The chemical slurries that develop and fix the image on the glass plate actually mimic the movements of a river's current, and the idiosyncratic qualities of Kolster's ambrotypes harken back to the historical coincidence of the dawn of photography and the industrialization of Europe and America.
With the reality of a changing global climate and consensus building about the extent that humans are responsible, Take Me to the River challenges us to set aside our blinders of wanting to see these riverine landscapes as either pure or despoiled. As the boundaries between the human and the natural are increasingly entangled, Kolster's photographs suggest how we can embrace, even cherish, places once degraded and ignored that have become, in their own way, alluring.
Michael Kolster is a photographer and associate professor of art at Bowdoin College who, in 2013, was a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Photography. His photographs have been featured in Loupe, the Journal of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University, Memorious, and Consilience – The Journal of Sustainability, and they are in the collections of the Capital One Financial Corporation, George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, and Polaroid Corporation, among others. Kolster has numerous solo and two-person exhibitions, including those at Gallery 263 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Page Bond Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, SRO Gallery at Texas Tech University, Schroeder Romero and Shredder Gallery in New York City, and 621 Gallery in Tallahassee, Florida.
Alison Nordström is an independent scholar, writer, and curator based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. From 1991 to 2002, she was Founding Director and Senior Curator of the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach Florida, and, from 2004 to 2013, was Senior Curator of Photographs at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. She is currently Curator for International Programs at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Artistic Director of the Lodz (Poland) Fotofestiwal, and a Scholar-in- Residence in the Graduate Department of Photography at Lesley University. She has curated more than 100 exhibitions of photography, including major surveys of landscape, portraiture, travel photographs, and journalism.
Matthew Klingle is an associate professor of history and environmental studies at Bowdoin College and the author of Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (Yale University Press, 2007), which received the biennial 2009 Ray Allen Billington Prize from the Organization of American Historians. Klingle has received awards, fellowships, and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, American Society for Environmental History, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, Organization of American Historians, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Urban History Association, and Western History Association.
"Kolster brilliantly exposes the complicated relationships between photographers and their subjects, photographs and their onlookers, and these witnesses and the experiences that construct their perspectives."
– Emma Brown, Zeke Magazine
"Due to the long exposures necessary to capture an ambrotype, Kolster has created a juxtaposition between solid elements – bridges, trees and factories – and the soft fluidity of rivers, always moving and changing. This book is a magical representation of how something thought lost or ruined can be renewed, how even flaws and rough edges can be beautiful."
– Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler, Photographer's Forum
"The meat of Take Me To The River is, of course, the photographs themselves. Presented dramatically with dreamy bright orthochromatic skies, they look quite beautiful in this large scale book. Kolster photographed from a variety of perspectives with varying amounts of human influence. Some images show Edenic natural settings. Some – generally downstream – are quite industrial. A few show actual humans, blurred toward indistinction by the slow exposure process. The range of expressions that a single river can take on is quite extraordinary. One of Kolster's favorite techniques is to combine several photographs of a site horizontally into a panoramic sequence."
– Blake Andrews, photo-eye
"Kolster's photographs are magical. To see them is to slip in time between past and present, to know rivers as products of natural and cultural forces, to reflect on the place of rivers in American culture, and to appreciate how photographs can transform understanding. Take Me to the River is required reading for all who care about photography, landscape, and the presence of history."
– Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT and author of The Eye Is a Door: Landscape, Photography, and the Art of Discovery and The Language of Landscape
"The medium is perfectly suited to the message in this beautiful and thought-provoking book. The light- sensitive emulsions flowing over the polished glass of Kolster's gorgeous ambrotype plates evoke the river water he stops dead still with his camera. Images and rivers, both, possess a serenity that belies their complex industrial histories. By using a slow and laborious nineteenth-century process, Kolster makes us pause to wonder how we can find unexpected glimpses of beauty in our own lives and to think hard about historical change, never a one-way street."
– Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History at Princeton University and author of Laura Gilpin: An Enduring Grace and Print the Legend: Photography and the American West
"Kolster's ambrotype photos are like rivers. They testify to the past, present, and future – here, a couple of centuries of industrial history and the twenty-first century efforts to clean it all up – while remaining irresistibly beautiful."
– Jenny Price, author of Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America
"Michael Kolster's book is one of beautifully realized images and great writing by the artist, curator Alison Nordström, and historian Matthew Klingle. It is an unforgettable collection of downstream images, memories, and aspirations where the river will always be saved."
– Christopher James, author of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes