Barry Lopez Foundation for Art & Environment

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Ron Jude: 12 Hz

When I saw Ron Jude’s photographs for the first time, it took me about 20 minutes to catch up to the scale of what he was doing, and the way he was using tonal values, and destroying the notion of boundedness in a “work of art.” I felt small in what he was doing and overwhelmed by something that wasn’t all that big. —Barry Lopez

The title of Ron Jude’s most recent project references the limits of human perception—12 Hz marks the lowest threshold of human hearing, suggesting the powerful yet frequently imperceptible forces that shape the physical world, from plate tectonics to glacial erosion to the incomprehensibility of geological time. Made in Oregon, Hawaii, and Iceland, Jude’s imposing, large-scale black-and-white photographs describe the raw materials of the planet and its systems—lava flows, sculptural formations of welded tuff, river and tidal currents, and glacial valleys—that are the foundation of organic life. Stripped bare of our presence, they allude to the immense scale and veiled mechanics of phenomena that operate indifferent to human enterprise in a time of ecological and political crisis. 

By pivoting away from the myth of human centrality, Jude’s work asks how one depicts the indifference of the non-human world to our egocentrism and folly without offering false comfort by looking away from our recklessness? Is it possible to engage the landscape in a meaningful way without resorting to formal trivialities, moralizing or personal narrative? 12 Hz establishes a simple premise: that change is constant, whether we are able to perceive it or not. In abandoning notions of sentiment and beauty found in traditional landscape photography, Ron Jude has created one of the most forceful and challenging visual statements of the emergent century.

12 Hz is accompanied by an audio installation by Joshua Bonnetta, Pressure Plates I & II. Two interacting compositions combine field recordings with manipulated seismic recordings collected from an array of sensors that record vertical ground motion. Both sets of recordings are site-specific to Jude’s photographs and reveal similar imperceptible forces of the earth’s geological systems at work both above and below the surface. Continually repeating on a loop, Bonnetta’s composition weaves in and out, rising and falling from opposite sides of the gallery against the rhythm of Jude’s photographs. The seismic data was generously provided by Leif Karlstrom of the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oregon.