Sage Sohier’s new series “Immersed & Submerged,” showing April 5 to May 12 at the Foley Gallery, evokes both the quiet solitude and subliminal drama of a particular New Hampshire pond. Photographed from a canoe, the images depict the passing flora and fauna. But what elevates them is the interplay of saturated color, light, and reflections and refractions resulting from small disturbances of wind on water.
“Immersed & Submerged” is a departure for Sohier, who has been photographing people in their environments for the past 30 years. In 2017, she published Americans Seen (Nazraeli), a series from the 1980s; and Witness to Beauty (Kehrer Verlag), a series about her mother, a former fashion model. In contrast to those project, “Immersed & Submerged” reflects on the artist through an environment—physical and emotional—of her own.
“For the last 20 years, I have spent as much time as possible in a canoe on a pond in the mountains of New Hampshire,” Sohier explains in her artist’s statement. “My grandfather was a naturalist, who taught me how to paddle a canoe and how to walk silently in the woods. My mother is an avid bird-watcher, and I have joined her in this enthusiasm.”
Sohier explains that despite her enduring love of nature, she had lacked the patience to photograph it. Then, after witnessing a commotion in 2017 involving some turtles and an agitated beaver, she wished she’d had her camera. Sohier started taking it along on her canoe rides. She became intrigued “at how the mixture of what’s on and below the surface, as well as what’s reflected, creates something complex and mysterious. “ She continues: “I found myself…trying to make pictures that show the timeless abstract beauty of these scenes. The optical properties of water are exquisite and surprising; add sunlight, wind, and ever-changing sky, and it becomes a mesmerizing cocktail of form and color.”
In one image, a stand of partly-submerged bur-reeds appear to shimmer against a dark background. The shimmering is the result of light refraction through wavelets that are invisible except for a few tiny reflections of blue sky. Another image layers a fern, Lilly-pads, nearby treetops and blue sky in a disorienting mix. With “Immersed & Submerged,” Sohier pulls viewers in with the natural beauty and then bends it, holding our gaze with the delights and dissonances of optical illusion.