New Photographic Survey of Walden Pond

What has become of the fabled Walden Pond? In his debut monograph Walden (Kehrer Verlag, May 2017S.B. Walker -- an artist from New England who grew up a few miles from Walden Pond -- surveys the symbolically charged landscape of literary giant Henry David Thoreau in an attempt to find out the answer. The publication of Walker's book marks the bicentennial of Thoreau's birth. Walking tours, lectures and exhibitions are planned throughout the year and around the world. 

Deeply rooted in the American collective conscious, Walden Pond is a mythical place perceived as wild and often considered to be the birthplace of the modern environmental movement. The contemporary Walden depicted in Walker's photographs is perhaps best characterized as a glorified suburban park, nestled amongst the sprawl of metropolitan Boston. As our awareness of the place is largely derived from Thoreau's rhapsodic description some 150 years ago -- writings in which he often drew connections between New England and the pastoral Arcadian landscape portrayed by the Roman poet Virgil -- the state of affairs as shown in Walker's Walden reveals a thought provoking and troubling paradox.

In his essay, Alan Trachtenberg writes: "... [Thoreau's] Walden Pond is a place of still, pristine waters and natural processes of seasonal change, of blossoming and dying, of regeneration into new life ... Walker's pictures, on the other hand, show something gone seriously wrong at this cherished site, a monument to American idealism itself ..."

In Walker's Walden we see a place populated by locals and tourists flocking to the hallowed spot to bird-watch, swim, nap, read, fish, and take a stroll in the woods. Signs of the encroachment of modern life are seen in the presence of wire fences, eroded pathways, chain saw markings, parking lots, a landfill just 1,200 feet from the edge of the pond, and a bulldozer poised to clear the way for a highway expansion project. The last image in Walden captures the liberated waters of the pond following an ice melt -- a scene that would be sublime if it were not for the presence of a Target shopping bag floating on the pond's surface in the foreground. 

An aura of melancholy sweeps through Walker's photographs suggesting the absence of a sense of well-being. Trachtenberg writes: "This seems like a frozen Walden, a freeze too deep to be redeemed by first aid alone ... by claiming 'Walden' for his title, [Walker] offers Thoreau -- and through him the entire tradition of American romanticism -- a formative role in his own extraordinary book. Walker's pictures are layered against each other to reveal an unrelenting vision of disenchantment with what Walden Pond once represented to enthralled Americans."

Walker and Thoreau were both in their late twenties when they began creating their works about Walden Pond. In 1845, Thoreau moved into a cabin in the woods beside Walden where he lived for two years recording his thoughts and feelings that would lay the groundwork for his seminal book. Nearly 170 years later, every day after work for four years (2010-2014), Walker headed down to the pond to walk the 1.7-mile loop with his camera and Thoreau's book to engage with Walden Pond and its cast of denizens. 

Recent articles in the press have addressed how Walden Pond is becoming increasingly polluted at the hands of man and that the ice on the pond is melting earlier due to global warming. It is Walker's hope his book will not only revive interest in the transcendental writings of Thoreau, but also contribute to the dialogue about the need to mitigate climate change and protect our planet's delicate ecological balance.

S.B. Walker is an artist living and working in New England. His works have been exhibited internationally and can be found in public and private collections including the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Smith Museum of Art, the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University, and the Prentice and Paul Sack Photographic Trust, among others. He is represented by Janet Borden Inc., New York, NY. For more information, go to: http://www.sbwalker.net

Alan Trachtenberg is the Neil Gray Jr. Professor Emeritus of English and American studies at Yale University, where he taught for thirty-five years. His books include Shades of Hiawatha (H&W, 2004) and The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (Hill & Wang, 2007).

Book Details:                                                                   

ISBN: 978-3-86828-765-3                                     

Hardcover, 8 x 10 inches                                                

124 pages; 58 b&w illustrations                                       

USD $40.00; Euro (D) 35,00

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