One would hope that Alain Lefort’s photographs of the Florida mangroves would reflect the poetry of its title: Echo’s Breath, and they do not disappoint. His latest series is lyrical and seductive. The artist is enamoured with a nature ‘‘that is both savage and disturbing, as well as bucolic and pastoral.’’ Using the theme of landscape as a point of departure, he creates complex compositions that are troubling and alluring.
Working in situ the photographer uses both old and new techniques – analog and digital – to create his visual explorations of our environment. From maritime moments in the Gaspé, to the lapping lakesides of the Laurentians and the forests of northern Quebec, Lefort departs from the idea of a landscape while carrying on that very tradition. As Monet used light to transform wheat fields and cathedrals, Lefort employs 21st century techniques to subtly alter his views – and our gaze. And as Monet’s surface dissolution held the paradox of both diminishing and increasing the sense of the real, so this artist creates a more tangible reality through his multi-levelled approach. Superimposing multiple images he creates a tension that is palpable in his photographic journey through the Florida Everglades. This layering creates a subtle sense of distortion while perfectly proposing what is reality. The persona of the mangrove trees with their roiling roots and twisted branches is strikingly communicated. Created with disparities of spatial depth, the images have a remarkable fluidity with no hint as to their complex construction. There is a subtle sense of movement in the layering of the leaves. Above all, there is a denseness: like Conrad’s “heart of darkness”– impenetrable. And there is tension, adding to the photographs’ enigmatic pull. The viewer feels the tenor of the tremulous: a sense of life and death in these renowned mangroves. The artist offers an almost virtual reality. You are there enticed by the “realness” of the image. Lefort has captured a thousand shades of green, drawing the eye from a darkened dying leaf to a bright emerald bud; all reflected in the waters of the still swamp, with his layering.
Lefort has inherited this genre of landscape photography from the early 20th century. World- renowned artists such as Ansel Adams, Robert Adams (no relation), and Brett Weston’s legacies range from amazing vistas of the American West to closely cropped crisp images, their subject matter flattened with a diminished sense of field. The landscapes of famed photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson are powerfully black and white; often trees stand starkly silhouetted with no discernible details. Unlike his candid street shots, the paysage images are carefully composed. And although all of these artists share a sense of vista in their work, their photographs do not have the same depth of dimension as do Lefort’s.
The photographs in Echo’s Breath provoke and unnerve – like an echo. The myth that inspired Lefort’s title is the story of a wood nymph. Cursed by a jealous goddess, Echo can never speak but only repeat the last words she heard. The photographer’s hyper-realistic images seem to reverberate, echoing in every leaf.