Lucas Foglia, Human Nature @Fredericks & Freiser

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 color photographs, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, the smaller back room, and the reception area. All of the works are pigment prints mounted to dibond, made between 2008 and 2016. Each print is sized 34×44 inches and is available in an edition of 8. (Installation shots below, courtesy of the artist and Fredericks & Freiser, NY.)

A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Nazraeli Press (here). Hardcover, 92 pages, with 58 color reproductions.

Comments/Context: Lucas Foglia is by no means the first contemporary photographer to point his camera at the increasingly visible results of climate change. Whole sprawling museum group shows could be filled with such pictures, with the residues and echoes of melting glaciers, powerful hurricanes, intense desertification, and other more subtle environmental changes offered up for our education and edification. Ranging in vantage point from screamingly outraged to deadpan observational, these photographs are a collective artistic response to conditions we can’t afford to overlook or dismiss, their documentary imperative a heartfelt plea to take notice, be more aware, and in the end, actively do something to protect what we all often take for granted.

Foglia’s approach to what has become a crowded photographic subject has been to situate himself at its friction points, looking more closely at the intimate interactions between humans and nature. His pictures are consistently about the connections, reactions, and evolving relationships between people and the land, where we find joys, explore mysteries, discover extremes, and make adaptations to changing conditions. With an understated and often quietly biting sense of humor, he documents how we are continually reinterpreting what it is we call nature, often highlighting an ominous (and foreboding) undercurrent of perilous coexistence or this-can’t-last recalibration.

While Foglia is clearly no climate change denier, many of his images acknowledge that we don’t know everything when it comes to nature, and that we still have plenty to learn. He tracks curious scientists and climatologists as they measure the velocity of glacial ice, drop inside perilously melting crevasses, and boldly look directly at the sun (via arrays of computer monitors), collectively furthering our knowledge about how the environment functions. He then crosses over into more esoteric natural interaction studies, watching as a woman’s brain waves are charted while listening to clifftop winds. Out on the leading edge of understanding, scientific experimentation and reverent mysticism have the potential to get a bit entangled.

Along the way, Foglia can’t help but show us a few tacitly pessimistic environmental extremes, their beauty a distraction from the harsh realities they represent. Wildfires scorch tree trunks and violently char forests, dirty detached icebergs turn a river into bumpy chocolate chip milkshake, and decapitated palm trees decorate a parched sunbaked landscape like ancient stone columns. A young girl blowing up a balloon on the edge of the endless moonscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah seems to set up the inevitable juxtaposition – humans trying to eke out some kind of a normal existence as the indifferent land offers unforgiving conditions as far as the eye can see.

But Foglia balances this sense of doom with a selection of images that look to cooperation and coexistence as possible (and inevitable) ways forward. An urban greenway snakes its way through densely populated downtown Seoul, a Singapore McDonald’s sports a spongy green roof, and a rejuvenating hotel swimming pool is surrounded by layers of lush garden greenery, each one a hybrid of human needs and more deliberate attention to natural realities. But even this can-do attitude is tempered by new constraints and unforeseen conditions generated by climate change – now precious export logs must be guarded against the intrusions of thieves, new crop varieties must be designed for the pressures of extreme weather, and once lazy swimming holes are now choked by invasive water lilies.

Part of the reason this project is successful is that it never allows the viewer to find a sense of balance. Just when we think Foglia is heading for a string of hectoring climate failures, he reminds us of the pure human joy to be found communing with nature, from an Edenic naked embrace in Hawaii to the contagious laughter of a nude mud bathing session in Virginia. But lest we get too comfortable with ourselves, he then offers us the intense stupidity of building a new house on a fresh lava flow, and the head shaking ridiculousness of a swimsuit photoshoot set against the ruins of an abandoned dust bowl-style farm. It seems the highly attuned and the woefully misguided are just two sides of the same human coin.

In the end, Foglia’s approach to the far reaching subject of climate change is thoughtfully measured and humanely scaled, giving us singular representative moments rather than sweeping visual generalizations or catchy talking points. He’s asked us to be mature and engaged (rather than distracted and passive), and to visually consider the evidence that our evolving climate situation is manifested in thousands of tiny (and not so tiny) changes to our collective existence. To grasp the severity and enormity of the repercussions and to begin to chart optimistic going forward solutions, he’s encouraging us to aggregate our understanding of all the interconnected parts, seeing the complex connections that tie together a melting glacier, a wildfire, and the rhythms of everyday life in America.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced at $6000 each. Foglia’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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