Deborah Springstead Ford: A Nearly Fatal Illusion

March 22- April 20

(March 22- April 20)    

Reception for the Artist: March 22, 6 – 8 PM


A Nearly Fatal Illusion


For the past five years I have been working on a photographic project (Cartography and the Cultural Terrain) creating images of a rapidly changing western landscape with an emphasis on the prairie and desert grasslands in and around the Powder River Basin in north central Wyoming. A stunning landscape where energy exploration is expanding exponentially, Wyoming itself is “ground zero” for oil, gas and coal exploration. Mineral extraction including drilling, hydraulic fracturing and transportation of energy resources takes a huge toll on the natural environment, destroying habitat for a great number of species (from sage grouse to pronghorn, trout to humans), leaving unsightly scars and abandoned detritus while contaminating ground water reserves. But currently, we are a society dependent upon fossil fuels. I am as much to blame.

A Nearly Fatal Illusion is a direct reference to Barry Commoner’s ideas from The Closing Circle regarding contemporary society’s alleged independence from nature. This lack of recognition that we are a part of nature, not separate from it is a core problem to our understanding the sustainability of our practices and the repercussions of our actions on these life forms and processes. It seems imperative that we begin to recognize our roles in the solutions as well as in the problems.


Biosphere 2


While on sabbatical I was awarded an opportunity to be artist in residence at Biosphere 2. My time there allowed me to shift my focus from one of concern, anger and despair about our changing environment to that of hope and possibility. My own visual research led me to scrape the surface of understanding the interconnectedness and complexity of life’s biological processes. B2 is a place where attention to biological processes is the order of the day and where one sees evidence of scientists, students and artists turning concern into knowledge, and knowledge into solutions for change.





These four elements; are the core of life’s sustaining cycles, events and processes including respiration, photosynthesis, decomposition, oxidation and precipitation. In this new body of photographs I attempt to explore the intersection of art, science and nature, chaos and climate, while trying to understand the tenuous equilibrium that these core elements play within the ecosystem, for reclamation and restoration of a planet in peril. This selection of photographs focus on a visual investigation of these elements within life's soup amidst the arid landscapes west of the 100th meridian contrasted alongside images of natural reclamation occurring in an abandoned battery at Fort Worden, Washington.


The Battery at Fort Worden


Fort Worden, on the Olympic Peninsula, was first established in the late 1890’s to defend Puget Sound and the surrounding areas. The Fort closed in 1953 and the battery, a great fortress constructed of steel and cement, apparently impervious to the most aggressive of attacks is no longer maintained. But today this battery is a “living laboratory” of nature’s work in reclamation. In The World Without Us, author Alan Weisman eloquently imagined the possibilities for the planet as it begins a self-healing process when humans are no longer present. I found the battery at Fort Worden a small example of these elements and processes at work unobstructed by human intervention.

I am not a scientist. I am a photographer in awe of the natural world, its processes and phenomena found within my sphere of experience. It is within this sphere of collaboration with biology, physics, and beyond, dovetailing with other ways of knowing (in my case, photography), that we are able to make sense of the world in which we live.


-Deborah Springstead Ford


In co-operation with Desert Initiative: Desert One (DI:D1)


This exhibit made possible with generous support from Prescott College and the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2.

Deborah Springstead Ford's Bio

Deborah (Springstead) Ford is currently Photographic Studies Faculty at Prescott College. She studied photography at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Arizona State University and Goddard College. Ms. Ford has a BFA in Photography, a Master’s in Photography/Art Education and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts. She has been teaching photography full time since 1982, the last 17 years at Prescott College in northern Arizona. She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including four Arizona Commission on the Arts Grants (an Artist Project Grant 2009) and participated in many Artist-in-Residence programs around the country including the Biosphere 2, Ucross Foundation, Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Arts, and Sitka Center for Art & Ecology to name a select few. Her work is found in numerous public and private collections including the Center for Creative Photography, California Museum of Photography (Riverside), Northlight Gallery, and Sitka Center for Art and Ecology among others. Her work has been exhibited nationally and recent publications include a profile in Black and White Magazine, Issue #82. (April 2011). She divides her time between Prescott, Arizona and Absarokee, Montana.


Desert Initiative: Desert One (DI:D1) is a creative  collaboration that brings together more than thirty leading museums, cultural centers and organizations, universities and public agencies connecting the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin Deserts to present innovative interdisciplinary investigations of the desert including exhibitions, lectures and commissions.  DI:D1 events and programs will take place throughout the region between September 2012 through April 2013 and engages diverse local, regional and international audiences in consideration of desert issues and cultures.