Familiar Frontiers

Explorer-photographer Jason Rydquist captures what the bygone becomes

Abandoned homesteads on plains of matted golden grains. A door’s once glorious enframement, now peeling like an onion, pieces of its papery skin withering at its feet. A pristine cerulean bedroom, empty save for squares of sunlight from a four-pane window. Forgotten houses collapsing under the weight of moss, mold and time. These are the images that photographer Jason Rydquist seeks in his visual exploration, from Michigan to the forsaken corners of Oregon, and they will be on display in his show Retrospect starting March 29 at Sam Bond’s.

“Good art has conflict in it,” says Rydquist. At 26, his sandy beard, canvas shirt, dark vest and sturdy felt hat belay an affinity to the golden era of the structures and vistas he photographs. “The conflicts that I seek out are life and death, darkness and light, the inherent wanderlust that we all have versus wanting to be rooted, the past and the present, nostalgia and amnesia … things that we all think of as in conflict with one another. But I’m intrigued by them coexisting.”

He did, in fact, grow up on a centennial family farm in Michigan where he worked the glaciated earth; he now tills at Camas Swale Farm and has the permanently soil-caked fingernails to prove it. “I am very much at home on familiar frontiers,” he says. Rydquist came to Oregon to learn new agricultural methods to bring home, to soothe his own wanderlust and to document a time and place.

There is an elegant dichotomic tension in the time and place of Rydquist’s images: what was and what could have been, why people came and why people left, nurture and neglect. It leaves the viewer with a similar kind of wonder, nostalgia and malaise conjured by paintings of Andrew Wyeth, an artist Rydquist deeply admires. Even in the equipment he uses — his great grandfather’s 1910 Kodak medium-format folding camera and a Nikon D80 — there is a push and pull between old and new. The same can be said of his methods: Rydquist cross-references turn-of-the-20th-century plat maps with satellite imaging to pinpoint homesteads and old Victorians.

The explorer-photographer has learned some lessons about the human condition along the way. “We always think the grass is greener somewhere else,” he says. “There are things that we think are at odds with each other, like flight or fight, and I think there is a virtue in the middle called staying put.”

Retrospect runs from Friday, March 29, to Thursday, April 25, at Sam Bond’s.

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