The Gila at 100

A hundred years ago, Aldo Leopold cooked up a fine idea in the Gila and we tagged these end-of-the-line places with the moniker “Wilderness” – so a celebration is in order. And an opportunity to come closer to that ideal. -Michael P Berman

The Gila Wilderness area is located within the Gila National Forest in Southwest New Mexico and was designated on June 3, 1924. “One hundred years ago, Aldo Leopold held with conviction that wilderness is a value unto itself and a precious resource to be protected. He also had the influence and power of persuasion to effect change,” said Gila National Forest Supervisor Camille Howes. “He argued for large swaths of land to be set aside for ecosystem function and recreation, where man is only a visitor. Convinced of his wisdom, the Southwestern Region of the Forest Service answered the call for protection by designating the Gila Wilderness.”

“At this historical political, social, ecological moment, so much is framed in terms of wins and losses. As we’re celebrating the win of 100 years of Wilderness, I think it’s safe to say no one victory is ever only triumph, and no forfeiture only ever defeat. The Gila has given us so much, but there is so much yet to be determined in terms of what a new paradigm of land management looks like that meets the threats of the 21st century. The Gila is the landscape to inspire that vision, and Michael Berman’s photographs provoke that sense of possibility and wonder, calling on us to look deeply at all that is wild, and ask ourselves, ‘What is my responsibility to this land?'” -Leia Barnett, Greater Gila New Mexico Advocate, WildEarth Guardians

Here is a question: Which place has created more security for the American people, Trinity or the Gila Wilderness? ….. both cannot be the future. Nuclear weapons and wilderness write two different endings for Homo Sapiens. Whatever answer is given to this question exposes who we are and what kind of world we will help create. – Charles Bowden

Michael P. Berman is no stranger to the Gila Wilderness. Living in Southern New Mexico, photographing in and around the area for years, culminated into the book, Gila (University of New Mexico Press, 2012) with over a 100 of his photographs and essays by the likes of Charles Bowden and many others. Berman is known for wandering the terrain of the American West, Mexico, Norteno and the extensive grasslands of Mongolia. Mr. Berman’s classically executed black and white photographs participate in and extend the tradition of western landscape photography; each body of work is distilled from extensive exploration of a cohesive landscape over time. After completing a series of photographs he then cuts up the negatives and prints and uses them as the basic medium for installations and paintings. The works in this exhibition consist of both traditional black and white prints, alongside Berman’s well-known ‘plates’ in which he uses mixed media on aluminum to combine both his photographs, acrylic, and varnish. In addition he ‘composite’ photographs, all of which he uses from his original images of the Gila to re-create a new visual representation that conjure up the emotional response felt while living and breathing within the Gila Wilderness.

For me that territory is the mountains and canyons north of where I live – the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wilderness. And it is here again and in all seasons that I have lit out. Honestly I’ve never felt the magic of the place so deeply … and yet been bedeviled by how poor a job we … the collective we, all of us, myself included … do when it comes to protecting the land. We are part of something greater than ourselves. And the trick, in these times, is to be quiet enough to perceive our place in where we are and what is actually out there. -Michael Berman

A portion of the Obscura Gallery proceeds from the sales of Michael Berman’s artworks from this exhibition will be donated to WildEarth Guardians to continue their work in the Gila Wilderness.

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