Photo by Drew Cornwall

Vos photography exhibit blends natural and developed scenery

Activists and art fanatics alike will enjoy the unique fusion of industry and nature in Mike Vos’ new environmentally-charged photography exhibit. Open from Feb. 7 to March 27 at PushDot Studio in Southeast Portland, the exhibit “Someday This Will All Be Gone” leaves viewers with an unsettling mix of hope and sadness. 

Using double exposure, or shooting two separate photographs on the same piece of film, Vos blends images of industrial and natural landscapes, all shot on a four by five film camera from 1916. Since the photos are produced without external computer work, Vos shoots based on an initial idea, with the end result unknown until the second photo is taken. 

One image that stands out when I walk into the exhibit is a photograph of the abandoned Olympia Nuclear Power Plant located in Washington state. Vos overlays the image of the power plant onto an image of a forested area in Washington. The beauty of the image lies in how viewers perceive the blending of the two photos. Vos’ goal of removing people from their reality and immersing them into his vision of the world is fully realized as you walk from photograph to photograph within the studio. 

These dual-images showcase a post-human world, displaying the resurgence of nature in the wake of humanity’s end. Through his photography, Vos explores and brings to life the following question: when humans are gone, what will the world look like? 

“The photos fall into this idea of humans creating this industrial landscape that they consider too big to fail — like the idea that this is so large that it can’t possibly run out of money or interest because we’ve invested this much time and energy into it,” Vos said. “But, in reality, there is nothing permanent about this landscape.” 

Vos was awarded a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council to build this project, which led him to drive across the U.S. three times to capture photos of natural spaces and declining landscapes. The exhibition is the product of this project with fourteen photographs taken in over ten states.

Vos explains that this project stemmed from strong feelings he had concerning the state of the world and the environment. Although his creative pursuits began in music, four years ago Vos started experimenting with photography and entered into the world of visual art. It was when he was gifted a camera by a friend for the first time that he was able to begin bringing his strong environmentally focused ideas to life. 

“This project is a way for me to cope with the anxiety and the guilt I felt about my tacit involvement in a lot of the things that go wrong with our ecosystem,” Vos said. “It was a way for me to mentally escape but also create something based around a subject I feel very strongly about.”

In the future, Vos plans to continue this project of conveying a world without humans through visual art. Leaving the exhibit, I felt a strange melancholy feeling over these photographs of abandoned places and untouched landscapes. Each photograph holds a sort of quiet hopefulness about the state of the environment, and what the future might hold for it. 

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