Seeing Red in the Snow: Art Professor Takes Infrared Photos in Arctic

Carleen Sheehan, artist-in-residence in the Department of Theatre and Visual Arts, is spending the month of June in the Arctic Circle.

Sheehan received a residency fellowship that is allowing her to do infrared photography in the northern latitudes, just off the Norwegian Islands.

Carleen Sheehan

Carleen Sheehan
Photo by Tom Stoelker

“So much of what we experience is filtered and fleeting,” said Sheehan. “With the infrared you can show the environment in an engaging and unfamiliar way, other than a typical landscape view.”

The residency, sponsored by The Farm Foundation, will bring Sheehan together with scholars, scientists, choreographers, an architect, a sound designer, and a children’s book author to collaborate on projects relating to the environment and climate change. For Sheehan, who views her artist’s methods in almost a scientific manner, and whose primary focus is the environment, the collaboration is a perfect fit.

“When I start a project, it’s like the beginning of doing a scientific experiment; you probably don’t know the outcome or you open yourself to new outcomes,” she said. “I’m very excited to be in the arctic because I just want to experiment, take pictures, and see what I’ll collect.”

Sheehan said she primarily thinks of herself as “someone who draws” but she incorporates “all levels of visual information.” That includes photography, painting, charts, maps, and anything that helps convey “the collage experience of contemporary life.”

Focusing on content that highlights the rapidly disappearing ice and snow, Sheehan said she’ll be using photo techniques in a “painterly way.” The use of infrared can transform a landscape that is green to appear as if it is pink or white, thus returning a verdant landscape to the color of the ice and snow that once covered it.

“Through these techniques, I’ll think through these problems . . . and come at them sideways.”

Aside from landscapes, Sheehan said she’ll also be making photographs of ice shadows using cyanotype, a blue-toned, early photographic printing process used frequently in the 20th century. As the process uses iron oxide, out of concern for the environment she won’t be developing the prints until she returns to her Brooklyn studio. As with the infrared, the cyanotype photos will also highlight global warming.

“Rather than showing ice melting, they’ll show you what’s left,” she said. “There are lots of mythic stories of shadows being the soul of something.”

Sheehan expects the overall theme of the work to be about “light, shadow, and ghosts,” themes which she says will allow her to play with the nearly 24 hours of light a day at the Arctic Circle this time of year.

“I use my camera as a drawing tool. I look for patterns of light and ephemeral moments in landscape,” she said. “I hope to bring that sensibility to the arctic.”


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