Piante Gallery

For more than a decade, photographer Joseph Wilhelm has been chronicling Humboldt Bay. He has gathered some of these images into a series exploring the connection between culture and landscape. His exhibition, "Human Nature," opens in September.

For Wilhelm, photography is an exploratory tool. "I'm a curious person," he explained. "When I'm with a camera it makes me slow down and notice things. I'm not a point and shoot kind of person. I hang out in places — sometimes for hours."

Humboldt Bay has held Wilhelm's attention for various reasons. He's drawn to wide-open spaces, but it's more than just grand vistas. "I'm interested in how different elements interface with one another — how culture expresses itself on the landscape," said Wilhelm. "I've always had a fascination with machines, but I also love flowers and birds. I'm drawn to the engineered and the abandoned. I'm drawn to rust and rot, but that's not all. It's the whole system."

While the juxtaposition of naturally occurring and constructed elements in Wilhelm's photographs ranges from striking to subtle, it's never manufactured. "I find things the way they are," he said. "I don't tamper or digitally manipulate to create scenarios."

Viewing "Human Nature" is a contemplative experience. "I look for quiet," Wilhelm said. "There are exceptions, but I go for minimal, quiet space when I can." The photographs are, with one exception, devoid of people, but evidence of humanity (signage, construction, debris) is everywhere. Images vary in size and perspective: intimate compositions next to great expanses. Photographs that function as abstractions hang alongside images with a more literal attitude. The palette ranges from subdued to intense with a handful of black and white images as well. What's remarkable is that despite this multiplicity, everything belongs. It all feels, like the system the show portrays, connected.