Much has been written about Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, the husband and wife team whose photographic tableaus took the art world by storm more than six years ago. Creating a genre unique within the photo world, the ParkeHarrisons construct fantasies in the guise of environmental performances for their Everyman – a man dressed in a black suit and starched white shirt – who interacts with the earths landscape. Tapping into their surreal imagination, the artists combine elaborate sets (which can take months to construct) and an impeccable sense of wit and irony, to address issues about the earth and mankind's responsibility to heal the damage he has done to its landscape.
Consistently dressed in his trademark outfit, this Everyman is earth's protector, healer and communicator, using low-tech implements as his aid. This everyman then shapes himself as fabricated props for theatrical performances, which are staged to be photographed. Like a production reserved for the cinema, the ParkeHarrison invent their settings, which tend to look more like scenes from "Metropolis" or "Blade Runner" rather than the family photo album.
As Robert ParkeHarrison said in the foreword to his monograph, "I want to make images that have open, narrative qualities, enough to suggest ideas about human limits. I want there to be a combination of the past juxtaposed with the modern. I use nature to symbolize the search, saving a tree, watering the earth. In this fabricated world, strange clouds of smog float by; there are holes in the sky. These mythic images mirror our world, where nature is domesticated, controlled, and destroyed."
In their most well-known works, the artists built oversized objects to perform improbable acts: a huge needle repairs the cracks in the earth's surface ("Mending the Earth"); a gear and propeller flying apparatus carries a man over the land so he can feed it ("The Sower"). In "Reclamation" – one of five new gravures on view – we see the suited man dragging the earth as if it were a blanket, providing a new layer for its continued existence. In "Burn Season," Everyman comes upon a field of flames wearing a suite of water balloons, ready to save it from extinction. In "Rain Dance," we see Everyman multiplied by four, each one carrying a branch, forming a human Stonehenge, empty water jugs on the ground ready to rescue the impending storm. The ParkeHarrisons join a growing number of artists working within and about the land, reminding us, through humor and gesture, what we continue to do to the land and what we need to do to heal it.
The ParkeHarrisons received a Guggenheim Fellow in 1999, an Artist Grant in Photography from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2001 and 1996, among other awards. Their monograph, The Architect's Brother, was published by Twin Palms Twelve Trees Press in 2000 with a second edition in 2002. Their works are included in numerous collections including Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art (NYC), Museum of Fine Arts (Houston) and the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House.
Image: Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, Chasing Birds, 2018