Opening Friday (Sept. 28), Lloyd Library will be awash with vibrant, intimate stills of Ohio’s Edge of Appalachia preserve. It’s a project that’s been in the works for years, now coming to fruition in conjunction with October's FotoFocus Biennial.
But T.J Vissing — one of the photographers behind A Year on The Edge — isn’t a nature photographer by trade, though he has shot professionally for 30 years. The other eye behind the series is Rick Conner.
“Rick and I have very different photographic approaches to covering The Edge,” Vissing says via email. “I tended to shoot more landscaped/wide angle views and Rick tended to shoot more details of flora and fauna of the area. This makes us a good fit for collaboration.”
“The Edge” encompasses the region in which the Appalachian mountain range begins from the West. Though often overlooked, the 16,000-acre nature preserve is just 75 miles east of Cincinnati, snug in Adams County, Ohio. Both the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy have worked to protect this region for over 50 years; proceeds from Vissing's and Conner's artwork will go toward the latter.
Both operate out of a studio, OMS Photo, housed in a converted firehouse in the Northside neighborhood.
The opening reception takes place 5:30-8 p.m on Friday, Sept. 28 at the Lloyd (917 Plum St., Downtown). Guests can meet Vissing, and drinks and food will be available. The exhibit will run through Nov. 30. Along with A Year on the Edge, the Lloyd will also showcase Out of the Stacks: Lloyd Inspired Artist Books, a collection of artists' books created by members of the Cincinnati Books Arts Society.
CityBeat chatted with Vissing via email regarding the project.
CityBeat: Your images showcase Ohio's Edge of Appalachia preserve. What are your ties to the region?
Vissing: Rick has been on the Board of Directors for the Ohio chapter of the Nature Conservancy for a while. A few years ago while we were taking a kayak trip down the Little Miami, he threw out the idea to document The Edge over the course of a year, and use our images to help support what The Edge is all about. I jumped right in — just give me a reason to go crawl around in the woods for a good cause. As I was shooting over the course of the next year or so, I got the know the place quite well.
CB: You hand-built the frames from reclaimed wood — how do you think this element adds to the photography? Does it feel more personal?
Vissing: The Nature Conservancy had acquired a new parcel of land in the (Edge of Appalachia region) that had some old barns. They had plans to take down the buildings to bring the land back to its natural state. Rick had the idea to grab some of the barn wood before they were gone and see if we could work them into frames for our show. We both experimented a bit with how to build them and landed on a style that we could work with. When we hung the show on Monday, we finally got to see all the images framed and hanging together. The personality of the barn wood really adds a cohesive look to the show. Each frame has a different personality, but at the same time they all work together. Perhaps it’s us knowing the connection that makes it a bit more special to us.
CB: In terms of the show’s mission to help protect the preserve, how do you hope the pieces bring awareness to guests coming to the gallery?
Vissing: From the beginning we hoped to grow awareness about The Edge. Our hope is to make people aware it’s out there and close enough for everyone who views our work to realize they can get out there and experience it for themselves. We’re looking for any opportunity to educate the public about one of Ohio's natural treasures. Helping the public understand the work that goes on to protect these places can also go a long way to help the Nature Conservancy with their goals to raise money to protect other places in Ohio. I relish the chance for our photography to help save our natural treasures and perhaps inspire someone to get out there and see what Ohio has to offer. We have made hundreds of the shots we have taken available to the Nature Conservancy for them to use how they see fit, so they grow awareness and raise money for their cause.
CB: How does it feel for your work to be part of a larger, city-wide event, i.e., FotoFocus?
Vissing: This is the first time for Rick and I both to hang a photo exhibit. To be a part of FotoFocus is a really big deal. The reputation of FotoFocus might help us get our message out. FotoFocus covers such a broad range of photography as art, and we feel humbled to be a part of it. This show is more about the photography, and it feels great to see our work on this stage. Early next year we hope to have a broader exhibit that is more information focused curated at the Cincinnati Museum Center.
(Note: This exchange has been edited for clarity.)