Geneva Anderson digs into art

Photographer Evvy Eisen’s “Oyster Farm” puts a human face on a front page controversy: Eisen in conversation with historian Dewey Livingston and Kevin and Nancy Lunny of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Petaluma Arts Center, Sunday

"The Oysterman," is just one of Marin documentary photgrapher Evvy Eisen's 60 silver gelatin prints in "Oyster Farm" at the Petaluma Arts Center through May 15, 2011. Photo by Evvy Eisen.

Acclaimed Point Reyes photographer Evvy Eisen is presenting her latest photographic essay – “Oyster Farm” through May 15 at Petaluma Arts Center.  Eisen, who specializes in environmental portraits, has taken a series of 60 silver gelatin prints focusing the workers at the historic Drakes Bay Oyster Company, which is located on Drakes Estero in the Point Reyes National Seashore in western Marin County.  Eisen will be in conversation this Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 2-4 p.m., with Marin historian Dewey Livingston on the development of agriculture and mariculture in the Point Reyes area and with Kevin and Nancy Lunny, proprietors of Drakes Bay Oyster Farm.  The Lunnys will also give a slide presentation entitled “Mariculture 101: How to Grow an Oyster.”  

Currently the center of an intense land use controversy, the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm has been thrust into national news and Eisen’s photographs, which are non-political, have thrown her indirectly into the controversy.  Speaking from her Point Reyes home in late March, Eisen said “Normally I do not take positions. I let my art speak for itself.  In this case, the publicity against the farm has been so biased, that I feel the need to help set the record straight.  I hope my photographs will inspire people to inform themselves about the situation and question what they are hearing.”  

Public confidence in the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm was undermined when claims were made that operation hurt seal populations and environment in the pristine waters of Point Reyes National Seashore.  An investigation by the Interior Department’s Solicitor’s Office has now been proven that National Park Service scientists made grevious errors while assessing the environmental impact of the disputed oyster farm, specifically that they mishandled photographic images showing the activities of, birds, and harbor seals at the upper Drakes Estero.  The photographs referred to are the some 250,000 digital surveliance images taken by hiden cameras installed by the National Park Services of the oyster company.   At issue is whether the 71-year-old oyster farm — the only such facility in the Point Reyes National Seashore — can extend its lease, which runs out next year. The farm, which produces 40 percent of the state’s commercial oysters, is located in a small bay nestled into the green coastal hills of the park, about 50 miles north of San Francisco.  The company has been embroiled in a dispute for years with park officials who want to convert the estuary to official wilderness.  Later this year the park service is expected to release its draft environmental impact statement, which will help determine if the farm can stay.  The Lunnys have mounted a very vocal opposition against the California Coastal Commission and environmentalists who have sought to run them out of business.

Eisen spent a year documenting the workers and the farm environment putting a human face on the issue.  She photographs in a classic portrait tradition – using a tripod mounted, medium format camera loaded with black and white film – and creates individual silver gelatin prints in the darkroom.  The exhibit is divided into three sections: portraits, photographs of the working farm and abstractions and still life compositions.  Eisen is also well-known for her Multiply by Six Million, a 15-year project photographing Holocaust survivors in California and France.  The catalyst for this immersive project was a 1992 assignment she got to photograph four Holocaust survivors in conjunction with her son David’s eighth-grade Holocaust project.   The exhibit is available online through the California Exhibition Resources Alliance with portraits from the collection and a clip from a short documentary film she created, which has been shown on the Sundance Channel.

Dewey Livingston is the curator of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History at Inverness.  He has been researching and writing about Point Reyes for more than twenty-five years.  He has written five books on West Marin history and assisted Eisen with her OYSTER FARM project.  Livingston’s books will be available for sale and he will be signed them at Sunday’s presentation at the Petaluma Arts Center.

Details:  The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA  94952. (707) 789-0537.  OYSTER FARM ends May 15, 2011.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment