The Water Shadows are photograms of the waters of the Columbia River – from the Hanford Reach to its mouth on the Oregon Coast. These one-of-a-kind camera-less photographs are made by submerging sheets of photosensitive paper directly in the water at night, exposing them to a flash of light and then developing the silver-gelatin prints in the darkroom. They are part of a larger project that began with Shadows, in which Daedalus & Davis created a series of body-length photograms evoking the shadows left by victims who were vaporized by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Not merely incidental to the current project is the fact that the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was developed at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, on the shore of the Columbia River.) Turning now to the Pacific Northwest, the Water Shadows capture not only water imagery but any garbage, detritus, plant or animal life that are present. The artists intend the project as a meditation on such interrelated concerns as the atomic age, climate change, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, water politics, and global economics.
Being about the challenges of comprehending, sensitively feeling and bearing witness to the global environmental crisis, this project is meant to encourage meditation and inquiry. The idea of presence, or immediacy, is central to Water Shadows – as it was to our earlier Shadows work. The fact that the river and ocean waters flowed directly over the paper, that recognizable plastic detritus such as discarded water bottles – tangled with frayed plastic rope and seaweed – rested on the paper and left their detailed traces, encourages the viewer to physically experience the presence of these intermingled trash objects, living things and living water, perhaps even more than a photograph. It is hoped that the photograms even summon the presence of the invisible, as in the unseen toxins coursing through the waters. Through this valuing of haptic sensing in addition to visual and intellectual perception, it is hoped that the Water Shadows might allow viewers to approach environmental concerns which are often cognitively and emotionally overwhelming with embodied and experiential understanding.