Other Nature

Ron Jude

80 pages / 39 illustrations

The Ice Plant 2008

Review by Melanie McWhorter




Behind my grandmother's house there is a space, a void where trash used to be thrown in the years before regular municipal garbage collection. It is a space for future archaeological riches: Old oil, coffee and paint cans, discarded doors and rusted artifacts returning to the earth. A place my father used to pass through to reach my great grandmother's house; a wide path filled with decades of decaying leaves fallen from the tall deciduous trees. The path follows a sewer line, with manholes protruding from the ground like tabletops, taking away the human refuge from outside of town to be disposed and processed. If you crest one of the small hills so common in this region you may see the houses, some still inhabited, the relics of the suburban mill village. It is a site that is familiar to me, when I see it I experience a collision of nature, memory and history. To a person without this history, the site would be empty of meaning; it would be characterized by its unfamiliarity, its ‘other' nature.

Other Nature, Ron Jude's newest book, is a complex exploration of this duality-the particular combination of qualities belonging to a person (the interior self) and to the material world surrounding us (the exterior self). By juxtaposing landscapes with hotel rooms Jude manifests an uncomfortable sense of ‘other', something that many may encounter, but few are familiar. Many of the exterior images have an unusual foreign objects involuntarily ‘placed' by nature or human beings, showing a presence that was. Showing that time was before and time will be after. Jude's photographs here remind me of a passage from Joyce Carol Oates's Against Nature:

"Moving through space and time by way of your own volition you inhabit an interior consciousness, a hallucinatory consciousness, it might be said, so long as breath, heartbeat, the body's autonomy hold; when motion is stopped you are jarred out of it. The interior is invaded by the exterior. The outside wants to come in, and only the self's fragile membrane prevents it."

Hotels, and those who choose to decorate them, usually attempt to generate an automatic relationship between the visitor and what is commonplace or home. But these spaces are made for those in transition. Each visitor-the vacationer, business man, homeless mom, ex-convict, hurricane refugee-all view this space differently. There is a disconnection between those who were there before, those who will later visit, and how each relates to this space. Jude explores the confines of these rooms and those items usually considered personal-my bed, my blanket, my chair-to reveal the impersonality. The photographs recognize each object's utilitarian function: the crumpled blanket in the top of the closet will bring warmth while the curtains block or reveal light.

Most of Jude's landscape photos show some intersection with omnipresent ‘man', but nature is not made to accommodate man. Like the confines of the room, the rectangular photo edges forces a fleeting relationship with each exterior space. It also creates tension, not to see nature as a whole, but only what Jude has selected to include within the borders. Jude stops the scene: there is no air to breathe, only a stagnant and static exhibition, conveying uncomfortable stillness and eerie quietness.

The stillness in these photographs is the opposite of the glorification of nature that writers like Abbey, Muir and Lopez speak of. It is not home and comfort or a contemplative walk in the woods - it is inherently unnatural, unfamiliar and ‘other'.