An artist and teacher, Sarah Pfohl lives and works in Mount Pleasant, MI, where she teaches at Central Michigan University. Sarah earned an MFA in Art Photography from Syracuse University in 2014.
Artist Statement: The forest rests also in you
My mother knows particular things about the place where we both grew up. Between which trees the sun rises in a specific season. What grows here, what might. How to break open a piece of shale against another rock. That once, there was an ocean here and later a glacier. That the wind peels away at the roof and other corners, as a tree root the width of her arm emerges into the cellar.
Human life relies on the natural resources housed, cultivated, and stewarded in rural areas for daily survival. As a result, the rural is constantly present, yet not always acknowledged, in lives lived fully separate from it.
Since 1960 my family has lived in one place, on 26 acres of rural land in southern Madison County, New York. The distinct local knowledge my mother has accumulated over the course of her life here and the way she has learned to interact with the land represent an understanding of the rural founded in the intricate, interdependent complexity located there. Through a series of landscape photographs and portraits of my mother made at home, I represent the land as an extension of the human body and as a distinct and living presence to make visible the crucial role the rural plays in all people’s daily life.
From my mother
Sarah asked me to write about this. I don’t like being photographed but I was happy to help my kid. It was good to spend time with her. I’m old and wrinkled so its funny she wanted to take pictures of me. She said she likes that I am old. I always had to wear the same things, like a uniform and could never smile. Maybe it is useful to know that while Sarah photographed me for this, my mother, her grandmother, died. Our small family became generationally smaller. It seems important to mention.
I’m not sure what she was looking for. We stayed mostly at home in the woods I know well. She took pictures of me and the plants. We spent a lot of time outside. Often it was hot or cold or buggy and she would ask me to stick my face in a tree or stop smiling or to relax my shoulders. I think we got along well. Sometimes making pictures didn’t go well and I felt bad because a good model should help make good pictures but Sarah would say it was just a bad day and not my fault. Sometimes she would come home but the rain or the wind would keep up inside. She wouldn’t let me photograph her.
I like some of the pictures we made. I want them to be at my funeral.