West Concord, MA
Natural Springs in Arid Landscapes: ” Coming from the tree crowded green countryside of New England, the West’s open views allow me to breathe. Aridity is one of its key features, making water an essential resource. The rough terrain carries with it a sense of hardship where it takes act of will to survive. A natural spring and its ecosystem — a tiny feature in a very large setting, exercise a significant influence on the wildlife, plant life, and human economy of the surrounding region. Disregarded as unimportant, natural springs are the underdog of the water cycle. I am drawn to the struggle – protect the springs or use them to water cattle and cities.
With their flows anywhere from slight to massive, perennial or ephemeral, springs tell a story where hope and abundance, exploitation and loss, are at work. The conception of this project was influenced by landscape photographers Frank Gohlke and Edward Burtynski who use photography to examine the implications of our impact and attitudes towards the natural world.
For the past three years armed with maps, I have gone on sketchy back roads with a rented GPS unit, and a cell phone with random service, looking for springs where coordinates were often woefully incorrect or out of date. I have discovered that each spring has its own personality. In tinder dry forests, L O Springs in Arizona is overflowing with reeds and lily pads, while Unnamed Spring near Shoshone, California exists as a tuft of brilliant yellow green surrounded by sand with no water reaching the surface. I imagined myself a pioneer searching for signs of water, as I went through the sunbaked Mohave desert. Upon reaching Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, I found Longstreet Spring filled with turquoise water so clear I could to see the rocks at the pool bottom and Crystal Spring pumping an astounding 2,800 gallons of water a minute. In the joy of discovering abundant water in the desert, I felt something akin to the sacred. Despite these glorious pools, exploitation and loss is equally evident. A Navajo man invited me to photograph his uncle’s spring at Big Mountain, located in the shadow of the Peabody Energy (coal) Company, on the Navajo Nation. At one time a perennial spring used for drinking water, it has become a barely discernible area of hardened, cracked sand marked only by a lone Juniper pine.
Few of us understand the unique importance of springs and why they merit protection. My photographs are used as a metaphor for three interwoven periods of time—past, present and future. Pristine springs, untouched by human activity, are few. Exploited springs are common. They are water-mined, dredged, or drained. Overused, mismanaged, and dried-up springs have become a memory. Preserving and conserving of natural springs may serve a purpose well beyond what we can imagine from this point in time. To paraphrase biologist Alfred Russel in 1863 – each species and ecosystem represent letters in an alphabet with which we can decipher the earth’s history. If individual letters are lost, the story of our past may become unintelligible.
Natural springs and their ecosystems act as a warning signal in gauging the health of groundwater and aquifers. They are at risk of becoming casualties of the attitudes that fresh water is a limitless resource. Yet they show a remarkable resiliency and if their aquifers are not too damaged, they can be rehabilitated. These unique sites hold key details to the past. Protecting water in arid landscapes continues to be a life and death conflict for where there is water there is life.”
Bremner Benedict graduated from New York University and earned a BFA at Western Washington University. She also studied at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley College and at the Maine Photographic Workshops Residency Program. Benedict has exhibited widely including most recently at Decordova Museum of Art and Sculpture (Lincoln, MA); Danforth Museum of Art (Framingham, MA); Phoenix Art Museum; the Mayor’s Gallery at Boston City Hall, and the Griffin Museum at Stoneham (Stoneham, MA), amongst others. She has received a number of awards, and her work is included in the permanent collections at a number of institutions, including: Fidelity Art Corporation (Boston, MA); The Center for Creative Photography (Tucson, AZ); the George Eastman International Museum of Photography (Rochester, NY); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, amongst others. Benedict currently works as a freelance photographer and graphic designer.