The forest rests also in you
I photograph my Mom in the rural place where we both grew up. In the photographs she stands alone with trees, plants, and branches. She touches the world around her, these particular plants and branches, or almost does. A closeness emerges. She looks and persists without an end, story, or event in sight.
A judgment and firm argument: Wondrous things fill this place.
The dead, crooked tree. A field of milkweed broken open and the hairy, wandering orb that floats, lifted by its reaching strands, anchored by a brown-eyed seed. A singular beauty until the morning I wake up after hours of strong wind and the entire backyard has grown white hair overnight. Light through an apple tree. Light through another nearby apple tree. The place in the woods that only 8 people have seen in the last 50 years. The comfort of the mysterious logic of growth and the way the plants know what to do as the seasons change. The robust trunk of a poplar that no one planted. The other, larger poplar, overturned in a violent summer storm, that turned out to have inches deep roots. Leaves, every single one different, even those with the same name. Many dirts. Goldenrod taller than the lowest branches of a 25-foot tree.
For so many people it all looks like nothing. For some, for me, it not only makes sense to watch this setting, to observe and be with these tiny changes as they unfold, but to allow these never-nothings to become turning points in my heart and the anchors of my daily life. The fossil, the twisted branch, the rotten crab apple have become the lenses through which I learned and know the world. Just as my parents grew me up, this particular place, also and more so, made me.
So these are the things from which I come. The person and the place together. I look just like them now. I can’t imagine myself without them. They are never nothing.
Sarah Pfohl is an artist and teacher. A combination of reading and study in critical rural theory, disability studies, and critical educational theory in dialogue with Sarah's personal experiences of rural places, disability, and classroom teaching currently inform her work as an artist. Broadly, she hopes her work makes more visible some small, true thing that rests in the space between how something appears and its much more complex actuality. Sarah lives in Indianapolis, IN and teaches photography at the University of Indianapolis. You can view more of her work here.