Like a wailing specter or a sign from God, Amelia Bauer’s series Burned Over strikes awe in the viewer, daring us to pull aside the veil. Inspired by the deeply embedded religious history of the New York region, the images are imbued with an unearthly presence, the darkness ignited in a luminous glow. Playing upon the distinctly American desire to conquer the wild, Bauer’s nature waxes ominous, suspended between terror and faith. We spoke more with her about the state’s history and the process of making the woods pulse with light.


Can you tell us a little bit about your work?
“My work is a series of discrete investigations into our cultural conceptions of the natural world. I examine my surroundings, specifically rural Central New York, through a lens of history and mythology. Aesthetic traditions are repositioned to create spaces that exist somewhere between our fears of the uncultivated wild and our romanticism of the ‘virgin’ landscape. In this way I explore the American experience of the frontier — the transitional landscapes at the boundaries of civilization.”

Why photograph specifically in the woods of New York state?
“The ‘burned-over district’ of upstate New York is so-named because of the religious fervor that roiled the area in the early 19th century. As settlements pushed westward through the state along Rt 20, termed the ‘psychic highway’, the territory became the birthplace of several early American religious and occult groups. Included among them were Shakers, Mormons, and the Spiritualists – those who believed that Mediums could interact with the spirit world via séances. Using Gauze, double exposures, and darkroom techniques, the Spiritualists produced photographs of Mediums with the spirits they summoned.”

“Inspired by these photographs, I set out to make portraits of the landscape that hosted such religious and spiritual pursuits by those early settlers. Working with a pyrotechnics crew, custom fireworks were created specifically for the shoot, and hiked into the forests of rural upstate New York. The photographs that make up the Burned Over series reveal something felt but not seen about these forests, as though the land itself holds a presence we seek to uncover but fear revealing entirely.”


What were the technical issues you encountered for this series?
“Working with pyrotechnics for the Burned Over series forced me to be much more improvisational than I had been before. The fleeting nature of fireworks as a light source made for unpredictable results. I’d never worked with something that I had such little control over before. I took hundreds of pictures in a huge variety of set ups during the first round of shooting. Then I had to sit on all of that material for a few months. I had millions of small prints I kept shuffling around. In the end, I only used one image from the first round. There was one approach that seemed to be the strongest. After that became clear to me, I shot the second round of images with the pyro crew, and those are the images that made the rest of the series.”





Discover More