Our Land

Benjamin Rusnak

2018 - Ongoing

Artists are explorers and interpreters, using our own stories to find and share universal commonalities. As part of a great and long tradition, I use the land to recharge, renew and work through internal conflicts.

Venturing into external landscapes, we inexorably delve into our internal wilderness in an intertwined expedition. My work explores the cycles of loss, genesis and rebirth that we all experience on our life journeys.

“Our Land”
is also a visual conversation about the tension between exploring and protecting the natural world. Through photographs I illustrate the dual — and often dueling — mandates that Congress gave the National Park Service during its founding in 1916: to preserve our national treasures and to provide for the enjoyment of the American people. I seek to capture that conflict through images of nature and images of people interacting with the natural world — how we experience, enjoy, reshape, honor and diminish nature. And how it changes us. Capitol Reef National Park’s chief of interpretation remarked that my work is the same as hers: helping visitors understand, experience and respect these magical places. Put simply, to interpret.

My personal experience in the outdoors has been one of seeking balance. Throughout 20 years of documenting poverty in the developing world for aid organizations I have always returned to the desolate canyons and deserts of the American West as a way to examine the desolation in my heart. Releasing that pain through the act of making photographs imbues the images with the weight of my emotions. This act grounds me literally and spiritually and gives me the strength to help others. As a blank canvas onto which we project our struggles and hopes, the land can be both release and cure for what ails the soul of modern society. In recent years, a series of health crises for my wife has brought us both to the land seeking solace and healing, an immersion therapy of wild spaces. We literally and metaphorically crawl into the crevices of land and soul.

Emerging from the womb of the Earth, we are reborn through our experiences in the natural world. This universal genesis and rebirth is represented in some images by my wife, Susan, who battled breast cancer and found true healing from her time immersed in nature during my artist-in-residence at Capitol Reef.

Exploring the natural world helps us discover our place in it, how nature changes us for the better and how we alter it, often for the worse. This work seeks that discovery, that sense of ancient place and foreboding future. In a world increasingly filled with artificial, sterile overstimulation, we need the natural stimulation of all our senses through dirt, plants, sun, rocks, clouds and sea. And sweat and blood.

This planet sustains and nourishes us, and as the only species that can alter the natural world on a global scale, it is our responsibility to be good stewards in this symbiotic relationship. These images represent the external and internal magic of wilderness, our transcendent exploration of these dual terrains, and how me may learn to better ourselves and our lifeline. Mother Nature beckons to be rejoined.

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