Landscape photographer Allie Mount spent a little over a year making a group of pictures in and around the The Sandy River, in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon. This is an area that was famously explored by Lewis & Clark in the early 19th century, and lies to close to Allie’s home, where she concentrates on making groups of images that bring to life the character of the wilderness that surrounds her. Allie’s work is often concerned with evoking the raw physicality, the denseness and the many varied kinds of beauty that invest this region with such an irresistible appeal. Her work is always resolutely non-triumphalist in its approach to picturing landscape, marked by subtle transitions and tightly arranged, elegant compositions. She manages both in the single image and cumulatively, gradually, to evoke that sense of the secret garden one finds to be present on long purposeless walks through the forest.
Allie was kind enough to answer a few questions about this body of work, and what may be forthcoming in the near future.
Interview with Allie Mount
Did you start the project as an excuse to keep going back to Sandy River Delta, was there something in the region that drew you back, or were you exploring an unformed curiosity or some blend of all these things?
More of a blend of those things. It’s an area that isn’t too far away from where I live so I kept finding my way there when I wanted to get out of the city and go for a walk. I felt an instant connection with the landscape, but my interest exploded once I brought my camera. The project really propelled and expanded my experiences out there.
What influenced the *when* of making the pictures, in terms of the season, the weather conditions and the time of day you made the pictures? Did you have a particular interest in a particular trajectory or time of year?
Most of the images actually come from late summer and fall through winter. I shot through all seasons, but those were the periods that really came together for me.
How systematic were you in the shooting process? I know you’ve seen Joel Sternfeld’s Oxbow Archive – were your methods similarly quite organised or more random?
My methods were more free-form on this project. It started in January 2010 and I shot through roughly February 2011. I didn’t keep a schedule, but I did get to photograph in all seasons.
What can you tell me about the area itself? What, if anything, should I know about the Sandy River Delta?
It is a historically rich area. The Sandy River runs the approximate route taken by Lewis and Clark during their Corps of Discovery expedition in 1805. The river actually gets its name from when Clark, who while walking along the shallow channel where the Sandy meets the Columbia, sunk to his knees in the volcanic sediment and proclaimed it “quicksand.” The soil today is still composed of debris from the 18th century eruptions of Mt. Hood and I have actually gotten stuck a few times myself and lost a pair of boots in the sand!
Before Lewis and Clark, the area was likely used by Native Americans for fishing and hunting. And like many of the rivers in the Pacific Northwest, it was involved in the fur trade from the 18th to the mid-19th centuries. Beavers still occupy the area today and I see plenty evidence of their activities during my walks.
The area has been affected by multiple damn projects, agricultural use, the harvesting of lumber and in more recent years escalating recreational use. Man has definitely altered the landscape, but these days it is in the midst of a conservation project, run by the United States Forest Service. Non-native plant species are being removed and replaced with local trees and shrubs, animal routes and populations are being restored. On my walks I pass sections with signs requesting hikers to stay on the path so as not to disrupt the reforestation efforts.
It really is a beautiful natural area, with over a thousand acres of wetlands, woods and prairies and I optimistically find the recent preservation efforts encouraging. I see a recognition of our influence on the future of these spaces and I think people feel a connection to the history and life of this land.
What kind of story or what kinds of stories do you hope to tell through the landscapes of Sandy River Delta, or with landscape photographs more generally?
It’s a challenging goal to hope that you can translate some of the beauty you see in nature; to represent what is already so simply perfect. The systems that govern these spaces are mighty and grand and at the same time, there is so much in the details, such an elegance in the scheme of life. Photographing these landscapes is a way for me to feel connected to those systems, a description of being part of the bigger picture.
In the full series it seems that pacing, rhythm, compositional rigour and sequencing are all things that you’ve put a great deal of thought and effort into. The pictures have a very well articulated cadence. What were your thoughts on these things as you edited, and to what extent did you think of them as you shot?
Pacing is always something I am aware of and enjoy when I shoot. The camera is sort of a vehicle for connecting to a rhythm of a place. Editing is a whole separate phase of the process, but is it where I can try to emphasize the pacing I feel while shooting.
Is the project finished now, and if so where does that leave you presently in terms of what comes next, or any change of direction?
I feel like it is at a good stopping point. I will continue to go back out there to take pictures, but I’m not actively expanding on the project right now. As far as what comes next, I have some ideas floating around, but I haven’t started another project yet.
Have you considered making a set of pictures in an entirely different environment to the Pacific Northwest woodlands? What sorts of ideas (without giving too much away) have drawn your attention?
Yes. I am very eager to do a series on Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is where my father grew up. Throughout my childhood I heard countless stories of playing in the woods, swimming in local quarries and following train-tracks up to a place called “Lookout Hill.” I have rich images of all of these places in my head, but I would love the chance to see them in person. I have done a lot of genealogical research on my Chattanooga ancestors, so it would be meaningful on a lot of levels to get acquainted with the landscape that was so familiar to that part of my family.