A University of Connecticut professor and landscape photographer, Janet L. Pritchard, is in the midst of turning her Connecticut River project into a book.
Her project, entitled “More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed,” involves photographing the Connecticut River in a way that represents the “character of New England” and highlights the socioeconomic differences between the states.
“My Connecticut River project looks at the Connecticut River landscape, delineated by its watershed, as a complex set of interconnected systems where present bumps up against past in telling ways,” she said.
Pritchard said that part of her inspiration for the project came from her childhood in New Jersey.
“Early summers on the Long Island Sound taught me respect for the sheer force of water when rough surf would swallow me up and spit me out energized and humbled,” Pritchard said. “But it wasn’t until I spent adolescent summers in [northwest] Wyoming where ditches are a way of life that I began to understand water is an economic resource and a precious commodity people go to war over.”
Pritchard said she decided to make her Connecticut River project into a book because it has a more intense feeling than looking at a photograph on a screen.
“Books allow a viewer to hold a broader scope of a project in their hands and tuck it away in their library to consider it over,” Pritchard said. “How one responds to photographs changes over time, one gains new information; we age, times change.”
She received a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship for “More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed.” According to UConn Today, Pritchard said the fellowship will allow her to spend more time researching topics such as the regional history of precision manufacturing, tobacco farming and organic agriculture. She uses history and science for greater understanding of ecological concerns throughout the watershed.
In response to receiving the fellowship, Pritchard said that it helps make the work she wants to accomplish possible, in a different way than she could have done without it.
“The Guggenheim Fellowship was something I had worked toward for years, applying more than once and chipping away at the process, refining my work,” she said. “I always had confidence in the work, but a jury process is out of one’s hands, so, while I was hopeful, I was not expectant.”
She is currently working on three projects at different stages of development, which includes entering the research phase for “More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed.” She is finishing her book, “More than Scenery: Yellowstone, an American Love Story,” which is aimed to be published in the winter of 2021. She is also continuing work on a collaborative project with the Hadrian’s Wall Working Group. That project has postponed a trip to the United Kingdom, but will reschedule when possible.
She said that her projects take years to complete because it takes a long time to fully learn about the land or riverscape, read history and talk to specialists. It’s worth being patient throughout the process to achieve the end result.
“I guess I like the constancy of knowing what I’m working on yet crave the unknown as well. I relish the feeling of uncertainty as a project unfolds, not knowing exactly where it will take me,” Pritchard said. “It feels much like I imagine walking a tightrope feels when one’s balance is continually shifting in response to large and small changes. And then, as the photographs accrue and my knowledge takes shape, my path becomes apparent and I work with a more profound sense of direction.”
Pritchard said that she loved photography her whole life. By age 14, she knew how to use a 35mm manual rangefinder camera and how to work a darkroom. She said she “felt pretty sassy about the whole endeavor.”
“Landscape photography is a natural extension of my childhood passion for being outdoors and later [working] as an outdoor education instructor,” she said. “ It’s where I prefer to be, and now, as an adult, it’s part of my job, how great is that.”
When she is traveling for her projects, she said she can face unexpected troubles, like finding inexpensive, safe housing and worrying about saving her photos on multiple drives. Pritchard said that satisfaction of finding the perfect shot makes it worth it.
“Traveling to photograph is a mix of mundane tasks, planning, stress, fatigue and loneliness sprinkled with rare, unpredictable moments of euphoria when everything comes together,” Pritchard said.
During these uncertain times, Pritchard said that frustrations can lead to creative ways to express one’s feelings. She said she has seen photos on social media of people trying to create community by taking pictures out of their windows, on daily walks or even photographing people on their front stoops. The idea of creating connection through photos is more important than ever.
“Folks are also archiving photos as documents of our current situation, and later this record will be useful in ways we cannot fully anticipate right now,” she said. “Photography is, on a personal level, a way to process feelings, and I believe we all have emotions that need attention right now.”
Rachel Philipson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.