Liza Ryan’s photographs of Antarctica forefront two concerns: environmentalism and photographic essentialism.
When she first encountered Antarctica, Ryan struggled to believe that the land she saw was real. After immersing herself in the landscape both on foot and in a kayak, she began to absorb the reality of the place, but her greatest challenge became how to document the experience. One cannot “capture” Antarctica on film or with anything else, Ryan recalls. Instead she chose to communicate how Antarctica feels by collaborating with the landscape in this continued body of work. She traces the curves of the glaciers and icebergs with charcoal, ink and graphite both to remember and to emphasize the preternatural architecture. She attempts to match the landscape’s palette with her markings and highlights shapes and colors easy to overlook in photographic documentation. This hybridization has long been part of Ryan’s process of combining her photographic imagery with drawing, painting and collage.
While her trip lasted only a few weeks, Ryan extended her stay in Antarctica indefinitely by becoming deeply immersed in her work in the studio. She has researched the area extensively through reading fiction, nonfiction and critical analyses. Now two years after being in Antarctica, Ryan is still exploring and trying to understand its impact. Antarctica activated a critical recalibration for the artist. Previous work obliquely referenced landscape and included intellectual questioning of environmental exteriors but was not directly concerned with landscape or environmental issues. The undeniable power and aliveness of the South Pole shifted Ryan and left her with a deep reverence and commitment to protecting the environment. Ryan believes it is her responsibility to share the complex, multi-faceted significance of this disappearing and critical continent.