Marion Belanger: Rift/Fault – Landscape Photographs of the North American Continental Plate at Haverford College
Northward light fills the gallery upon entering Marion Belanger’s exhibition Rift/Fault. The exhibition, currently on view at Haverford College, contains roughly two dozen pairings of photographs drawn from Belanger’s decade-long investigation into the geography and geology of an unseen tectonic boundary: the North American Continental Plate. Along the edges of the plate lies the Mid-Atlantic Rift in Iceland, bisecting and pulling the small nation apart, and the San Andreas Fault in California, which has long held a special place in America’s popular imagination.
Belanger’s photographs depict bright, spare, and brutally captivating landscapes along the plate’s edges. Initially shot on 4×5 and 6×7 inch film, the negatives were scanned to produce large color prints, which are hung in pairs: an image from the Icelandic Rift above (or next to) an image from the San Andreas Fault. Their arrangement causes the exhibition to be “read” like a book. Each pairing, carefully collated by Belanger, creates a subtle parataxis between what is seen and the implication of deeper geologic movements.
The photographs document domestic architecture and infrastructure, highlighting odd silhouettes where land meets sky. Similarities between the two sites begin to accumulate. The bleached California light mirrors the illuminating, misty white skies of Iceland. The same pale light gives the spare colors their punch. The interplay between the literal subjects of individual photographs, which Belanger aptly describes as raw, empty, mundane, and ordinary, draws sharp contrast to the content of the work. Cues leading the viewer deeper are sometimes subtle (a small crack in a cement wall), and at other times overt (a gaping maw where a house once stood). In other photographs, there is no visible indication of the tectonic movements beneath the earth’s surface. Depicting a sleepy suburb or a hiking trail on a foggy morning, this last subset, when seen in relation to the whole, feels terribly haunted. As Belanger remarks in her statement, “The monotone housing developments built on top of the fault seem to deny the existence of the unstable earth below the surface. The ordered built environment ignores the actuality of the land, a dangerous disconnect.” In these shifting registers, the quiet work finds its edge.