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figure in the landscape: badlands, south dakota 2008 | march 21st 2009

in may of 2008, sixteen artists - twelve photographers and four models - met near interior, south dakota for a five-day retreat/workshop in and around the badlands national park......a remote, sacred region with its sculpted soil, sweeping vistas and extraordinary light that is an ideal dramatic background for figurative image making. the photographers and models worked collaboratively, joining the nude human form, the natural landscape, and the local cultural environment to create evocative and often dramatic portraiture. this event was led by minneapolis photographer doug beasley as part of his visionquest photo workshops.

featured artists
geof stone, minneapolis MN
ken jackson, fayetteville NC
elizabeth grubb, minneapolis MN
greg reichelt, milwaukee WI
john olson, minneapolis MN
doug bundren, belgrade MT
jim mckinniss, redondo beach CA
doug beasley, minneapolis MN


Umber Studios: Evocative photography of the human figure set in stark terrain of Badlands
By Susannah Schouweiler | Published in MinnPost.com
Fri, Mar 20 2009 9:00 am

Since the early '90s, St. Paul photographer Douglas Beasley has spent a good part of every year leading Vision Quest photography workshops in exotic locales around the world - Guatemala, Hawaii, Indonesia, Ireland, the Badlands. Although he has made a name for himself as an accomplished commercial and fine-art photographer, Beasley doesn't intend these excursions to be merely technical exercises.

He says, "People at all levels of experience come along on these workshops, from burned-out pros to people who are new to photography, and they're all immersed in this experience together, bringing their own, unique perspectives into the mix. Even though I've visited many of these places every year, my students always show me something new, something that can only be seen through their eyes.

"For me, it's more than taking pictures of a subject," Beasley says. "I prefer to think of it as a collaborative process, which equally engages the model, the landscape and the person behind the camera."

Janell Vircks, co-founder of Umber Studios, is a curator of the gallery's new exhibition, "Figure in the Landscape: Badlands, South Dakota 2008," which features photographs taken during one of these workshops. In fact, Vircks is an alum of the program, herself; over the course of 10 years, she has participated as both a model and a photographer.

Vircks describes the sessions as transformational experiences. "You get to the Badlands, and, all of a sudden, there's this landscape that blows your mind. Then you throw a model in there. The juxtaposition of the soft textures of the human form against that harsh, beautiful landscape it's almost too much to take in."

"Doug isn't trying to help you take a better snapshot," she says. "He wants to help you become vulnerable to what you're seeing. He takes the camera out of your hands, even if it's still literally in your hands, so you can really feel what it's like to be there, in that place, with the people in front of you."

"And we've tried to capture something of that artfulness in the photography selected for the show," she says. "The images chosen aren't just good shots; the best of them have some of the intimacy of the experience itself. I think that shared experience ties the work together in a way that can't be duplicated by a simple, themed group show with photographs of the human figure in a landscape."

She pauses a minute, then says, "This is a reunion as much as it is an exhibition."