The Androscoggin River (Maine/New Hampshire)
The Schulykill River (Pennsylvania)
The James River (Virginia)
The Savannah River (Georgia/South Carolina)
The Los Angeles River (Southern California)

Take Me to the River  looks at five post-industrial rivers as they emerge from almost two centuries of neglect. With vastly improved water quality in each river since enactment of the 1972 Clean Water Act, public affection has gradually increased as memories of foul smells and fetid water fade. Today, these rivers still carry the legacies of decades of pollution in their currents and sediments yet they are waterways, renewed and rediscovered, that our grandparents never could have envisioned.

The photographs are made in a portable darkroom set up along the banks of the rivers with the wet-plate photographic process, a nineteenth-century method once used to document the battlefields of the Civil War and the great vistas of the far American West. The chemical slurries that develop the image on the glass plate mimic the movements of a river’s current. The tonal quality of the images themselves references the dawn of photography and our nation’s concurrent industrial development. The resulting photographs depict present-day rivers inextricably linked to the past while not being fully bound by it. These contemporary ambrotypes remind us that these rivers sit at the shifting confluence of an unpredictable physical world and the human compulsion to shape nature.

With consensus building about our changing climate and the extent humans are responsible, these rivers challenge us to set aside our usual blinders of seeing the landscape as either pure or despoiled. As the boundaries between the human and the natural are increasingly entangled these rivers suggest how we might embrace, even cherish, places once degraded and ignored.

The project comprises 8x10 ambrotypes mounted in front of black acrylic and large-scale pigment prints from scanned plates.

A 240-page book of the four eastern rivers was published in 2016 by George F. Thompson Publishing. It is available at photo-eye. A 128-page book on the Los Angeles River is due in early 2019.

- Michael Kolster

Michael Kolster, a 2013 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, teaches at Bowdoin College and lives in Maine with his wife, Christy Shake, and son, Calvin.

He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has lived in Rochester, New York; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Boston, Massachusetts; and San Francisco, California. He holds a BA in American Studies from Williams College, an MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art, and a certificate from the full-time Documentary Photography program at the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Since 2002 Michael has maintained a website, The Daily Post, to which he posts a photograph everyday.

Visit Michael Kolster’s site