New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

Eirik Johnson
Sawdust Mountain
Eirik Johnson, “Adult Books, Firewood and Truck for Sale, Port Angeles, Washington”

America’s Pacific Northwest — it was once one of America’s last frontiers, a near mythical region known for its rich natural resources – old growth forests and teeming salmon fisheries –– that helped fuel boomtowns and the American dream. But after viewing the exhibition Eirik Johnson: Sawdust Mountain, you’ll have a different picture. And it’s not always pretty.

Johnson, a Seattle-based photographer, spent four years in Oregon, Washington and Northern California, documenting the impact that the lumber and fishing industries have had on the ecosystems and the rural communities long dependent on them for support. In this series of 39 large color images, you’ll see there really is a sawdust mountain (as well as a book with the same name); a symbol perhaps of how we’ve managed to turn a prized resource – our environment – into a pile of dust. Clear-cut forests, freshly felled trees, fisheries with no fish, Johnson’s straightforward pictures show this damage to the landscape and the people who live there is so pervasive that it doesn’t seem possible to turn back the clock. With ecological concerns a new priority, the industries dependent on these natural resources may not be sustainable for as long as we thought.

That could be why there’s a profound sense of emptiness in many of his pictures — the people he photographs are almost expressionless—there’s only one smile to be seen. They’re wondering what’s next. The landscapes are usually just as empty — one shows an adolescent bald eagle atop a lone tree, another symbol of a damaged environment. In another photo, we see two empty desks side-by-side in the office of Seaport Lumber...what does that say? But life goes on. There’s an image of a house trailer with a sign outside offering both adult books and firewood for sale. Heat for a cold winter’s night? And his photograph of the Starlite Drive-In at twilight is very memorable.

Johnson calls his work, “A melancholy love letter of sorts, my own personal ramblings.” The overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest and the muted colors that result add to the melancholy.

You come away from this exhibition wondering why these valuable resources had to be abused or overused, and at the same time, you appreciate having the opportunity to observe an artist’s view of what seems to be a disappearing way of life. Sawdust Mountain: See it while you can.

 by unidentified photographer.
Eirik Johnson, “Starlite Drive-In, Roseburg, Oregon”

Eirik Johnson
Sawdust Mountain


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Friday, April 16 to
Thursday, June 10, 2010
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