Steve Nelson of the Hope College faculty has an exhibition of photographs on display this summer at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education in Hastings.
Nelson’s exhibition “Gardens of Industry” features photographs taken of abandoned industrial sites in both of Michigan’s peninsulas, a study presenting unique perspectives of abandoned structures found within the expanse of remote natural vistas. It is running at the Institute’s visitor center from June through August, with a reception on Wednesday, June 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free.
Nelson is an associate professor at Hope. He has taught at the college since 1989, specializing in photography, and is a past chair of the Department of Art and Art History. He received his BFA in 1982 from Western Michigan University, where he concentrated in photography, and his MFA in art media studies in 1985 from Syracuse University.
He is interested in the relationship between industry, community and nature in the context of the past and present, a fascination that stems from his exploration of an abandoned sand-mining facility while growing up in Muskegon. As an undergraduate, he photographed artisans in Guatemala who found their traditional handcrafting being replaced by mass-produced goods. His photography of industrial sites in Michigan has followed his recent chronicling of ruined abbeys in England.
“Ruins hold a unique position in shaping our perspective of time and place. The experience of observing the transitory stages of nature and human form raises questions regarding our notions of progress, order and permanence,” he has explained. “I am drawn to these uncelebrated spaces because they are both sublimely beautiful, yet harbor uneasiness in their decaying structures and organic growth. I am alone, confronted with a quiet entropy of weathered structures harboring tenuous vegetation, devoid of human purpose.
“Through these photographs I question institutions of power, the value of industry and production in furthering the human condition,” Nelson continues. “What was the value of the production process of this industry with regard to balance of commerce and the resulting environmental impact? What will the function of these spaces be in the future? Will they ever find a function, or will they continue to decline and ultimately face demolition? I hope that the questions raised through the photographs contribute to the conversation about purpose and function and our perceptions of past, present and future conditions.”
His photography of the post-industrial complex of the Plainwell Paper Mill was included in the two-person exhibition “Ripple Effect” at both at the mill in 2015 and at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids in 2016. He presented an illustrated seminar about his study of the state’s abandoned industrial sites during the college’s annual Winter Happening program in 2012, and his images of the Plainwell mill were featured in the college’s magazine, “News from Hope College,” in December 2015.
More about Nelson and his work is available online at stevenelsonphotography.com.
Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is a nature center, environmental education center and biological field station located on 742 acres just nine miles south of Hastings in rural Barry County. With its mission to inspire appreciation and stewardship of the environment, the Institute maintains its property as a preserve under an easement granted by the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy and works to provide educational programs and seasonal recreational for community members of all ages. In addition to the reception, highlights on June 21 will include an ice cream social, musical entertainment and Family Science Night activities for children.
The Institute is located at 701 West Cloverdale Road in Hastings. More information is available online.
Photo courtesy of Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education