written by: Susan Lacke
photos by: Eric Overton
As a child growing up in the Mount Olympus Cove neighborhood of Millcreek, Eric Overton spent his days in the abundance of nature in his backyard—the slopes of of the Wasatch Range. But as childhood turned to adolescence and then college and career, the demands of the real world overtook the lure of the natural world.
“I think I just took it for granted,” says Overton. “Several years studying medicine and residency training took its toll. When I realized that, I found myself looking for ways to get back to nature as often as possible.”
Overton bought a new pair of hiking boots and took to the mountains once more. As he rekindled his love for the outdoors, he was inspired to document the American landscape with his camera—particularly, scenes from national parks. To maximize his time outdoors, Overton followed the lead of renowned photographer Sally Mann, who uses a Chevy Suburban as her darkroom while she shoots on location. Overton processes his images in the back of his truck, using what is known as a “wet plate collodion” process—a time-consuming, temperamental and difficult procedure that yields more failures than successes. But those rare successes are magic, says Overton.
“One time, I arrived in Yosemite with the intention of photographing for five straight days. The first day, the weather was cold and very wet. Visibility was minimal and the rain was heavy. The second day was incredible. Yosemite was fresh, the land was reborn and conditions were ideal for any photographer. I worked all day with excitement, only to find I was only able to produce one image. Temperature of the chemistry is crucial, and I couldn’t find the correct ratio of developer for the wet-plate process to be functional. After hours of frustration photographing using this process without producing a single photograph, I started to ask myself, ‘Why I am doing this?’ The answer to that question eventually was answered when that one image emerged after so much time and work. Yosemite #2 from the Tunnel View is the singular result from this entire day. I can’t imagine a better reward for my struggle than that image.”
Overton’s approach to the American landscape did not initially involve any specific environmental agenda—he simply wanted to reconnect with the beauty of the natural world. But soon he saw his art as a way to protect the American landscape.
“In some small way, I hope to contribute to the ongoing environmental call to action,” says Overton. “Our land not only affords us the opportunity to connect with the earth but to our nation, to each other and to ourselves. The national parks along with other boundless spaces are among the most valuable entities imaginable. The risk of losing this source of beauty, inspiration and symbol of our deepest virtues is real. This land is our gift, our privilege.”
Overton’s newest work, “Wild America: Process and Preservation,” debuts at Salt Lake City’s Modern West Fine Art Gallery May 17-June 10. 177 E. 200 South, SLC, 801-355-3383, modernwestfineart.com