“Like cards, flora and fauna could be read again and again, not only alone but in combination, in the endlessly shifting combinations of a nature that tells its own stories and colors ours, a nature we are losing without knowing even the extent of that loss.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost.

Hargrave has spent the past five years traveling and photographing in prairies, mangrove swamps, tropical forests, and other exotic locales, as well as in urban forest preserves and other places she encounters closer to home. Immersing herself in these landscapes, she detaches from her ordinary life, using her camera and the sensuous terrain of the land as her guideposts.

She arranges the resulting color-soaked pictures alongside near-abstract photos taken in moments of domestic reverie and rephotographed vernacular snapshots of wildlife borrowed from her own vintage family albums and home movies.

Collectively, the varied images form a wandering narrative resonant with similarities between the timeless, cyclical rhythms of the natural world and the banal moments of daily life where glints of memory and artistic inspiration materialize.

Physical space becomes a psychic space for Hargrave. Her images compellingly touch on the experience of being lost in thought, as well as the potential to express introspection and the impetus to ponder the richness of the cosmos.

These themes of contemplation can be seen not only in the subject matter of Hargrave’s photographs but also in their misty palette, which intentionally refers both to the haze of memory and to historic film processes.

Hargrave is particularly inspired by the Autochrome, an early color process developed in 1903 by the Lumière brothers. It was a revelation in its time, even though it inaccurately translates color intensity, leaving many images washed in shades of brown with pops of vibrant blues, greens, and magentas.

Many of Hargrave’s images mimic this look through her use of in-camera exposure techniques and her careful alteration of color during post-production and the printing process. The pictures also recall the amber tone of Polaroids and the saturated chroma of Kodachromes, two analog processes that further revolutionized color photography but have now, like the Autochrome, become obsolete.

Hargrave distills attributes of these various film stocks as part of a process that emphasizes the act of photographing as one of translation rather than capture. Using the sophisticated control and interpretive freedom available to artists as they transcribe the three-dimensional world onto two-dimensional photosensitive substrates, she sidesteps photography’s decades-long pursuit of updating technology so that it might better record the real.

Instead, she converts the unique colorations that arise during photochemical reactions into images replete with raw emotion. Still photographs are illusions that never truly arrest the experience of the moving world. Hargrave uses the medium as poetry rather than document and creates an analogue for the ungraspable forms of awareness encountered in life’s most sublime moments.

An undertone of extinction can be sensed not only in Hargrave’s references to historic photographic techniques, but also in her intentional intersection with themes of environmental degradation. Her haunting imagery at times feels awash in chemical shades that evoke a world altered by human activities.

Her haunting imagery at times feels awash in chemical shades that evoke a world altered by human activities.

For Hargrave, the dark, intense moments of her project echo the colors and tone of transformed ecosystems. References to the vanishing richness of wild environs are also at play in pictures of African wildlife interspersed throughout the series. Hargrave made the images during an excursion in 1982, but they carry two dates: the first, the year the photo was taken; and the second, 2015, the year the image was remade for this project.

The double dates cause the pictures to straddle space and time, speaking to what is retained as well as what is lost when one studies an old photograph and mulls over summoned memories. The bracketed time span also suggests Hargrave’s own changing experience of events and imagery over time, as well as the continuous transformation of the sites depicted across decades.

Her images compellingly touch on the experience of being lost in thought, as well as the potential to express introspection and the impetus to ponder the richness of the cosmos.

With environmental pressures steadily increasing throughout the world, the photographs seem to foreshadow the continued loss of habitat and animal populations, a dark reality that sits alongside the pictures’ tranquility and beauty.

Hargrave’s images seem to foreshadow the continued loss of habitat and animal populations, a dark reality that sits alongside the tranquility, beauty, and contemplation found in this project.

The image titles in the series further allow the meanings of each picture to traverse space and time. Rather than offering specific information about the places depicted, they only vaguely describe each scene. The ambiguity is intentional.

Unmoored from the specificity of a named place, the images are not beholden to previously delineated meanings about particular locations or the rigidity of linear time. Instead, image after image opens up to discovery and lucid drifting, calling forth complex questions about how humans perceive time, measure time, record time, and remember times past—as well as how we imagine the future.

In this pursuit, Hargrave makes clear one of the quintessential realities of human experience: the vivid, real, lived circumstances of being present in a place cannot be preserved. Time cannot be stopped, and experience cannot be captured. The present immediately yields to the past. Change is inherent in nature, and the swirling nature of our perceptions moves right alongside, engulfed and apart.


“Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.” – Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost.

Alice Hargrave

Alice Q. Hargrave
Alice Hargrave is a photographic artist and educator, based in Chicago. Her work explores the fugitive nature of experience, the natural world, and the photographic medium itself. She is interested in how photographs literally color memory, and perception.

Hargrave has had several one-person exhibitions, including two at The Chicago Cultural Center. Her work has been seen in group exhibitions at The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Smart Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, The Tweed Museum of Art, Art Metz (France), Klein Gallery, and Carol Ehlers Gallery, who represented her. She is collected nationally, internationally, and is included in the collections of The Museum of Contemporary Photography, The Ruttenberg Collection, Nuveen Corporation, Outer Circle Corporation, and Rush Presbyterian Hospital among others. Hargrave’s work has received many awards, and has been published and reviewed in several journals. She has been a professor at Columbia College since 1994.

Allison Grant

Allison Grant is Assistant Curator of Exhibitions and Education at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, where she has curated numerous exhibitions. Grant holds an MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago and a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Media Studies. She currently teaches in the Photography and Art & Design departments at Columbia College Chicago.