I looked at The Watershed Project by Jeff Rich as part of my research for assignment one. My tutor thought it a good idea to write a blog post on the subject. I generally prefer to keep my research information for each module in a PDF document that I create using the digital note-taking program, NoteLedge. Off-line notes appeal to me because I can record information in a haphazard fashion, as well as save any image for continual reference without concern of copyright infringement. However, in this case I emailed Jeff Rich, and received a prompt reply giving me permission to publish some of his images in this post.
I began my research by looking up a precise definition of a watershed. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describe a watershed as ‘the area of land that includes a particular river or lake and all the rivers, streams, etc., that flow into it’.
In Watershed, Rich intends to highlight the relationship between land, water, and man within the Mississippi River watershed, the largest watershed in North America. The Southern portion of the Mississippi watershed is made up of three major river basins, The French Broad, The Tennessee and The Mississippi. Each of these basins form a chapter of The Watershed Project. Rich states that ‘the common misconception of a watershed is that it’s all about the water. While water does play a large part, the land plays an even larger role by directing the water to a common point, such as a river or ocean. Thus, human impact on the land directly affects the water that runs over it’.
I was first drawn towards the work of Jeff Rich because of his subject matter. Put simply, it was a study of rivers. My submission for assignment one looked at a positive and negative side of the River Shannon. It was for the negative side of the story that I was most influenced by Rich’s work. Many of his images, including those that depict pollution or other man-made interruptions in the river’s flow, feature strong use of diagonals and other elements of design. His composition allows the interfering force to assert it’s position in conflict with the river, thus engaging with the viewer.
Rich first ‘became fascinated by the mountain topography that has shaped this water into something that can clear hills and flood towns in a matter of hours’. He ‘began to see the problems that man caused’ and searched out ‘the most polluted sections of the river and biggest polluters; paper mills, power plants and quarries’. But The Watershed Project is more than just the story of a polluted water course. As Rich travelled the rivers, he discovered that many of the residents he met ‘had one section of the river that they considered there own, and ultimately some responsibility towards. The idea that each resident can adopt his/her own piece of land, holds the promise of a sustainable relationship with the watershed’
A very interesting point Jeff Rich makes is that he notice ‘that people would always speak of up stream in the past tense, and with a sense of anger and helplessness. However, when speaking of their own place on the river, it was in the present tense and with a sense of pride. He draws parallels between this view, the linear flow of the river and the history of the river.
Since receiving my tutor’s feedback on the first assignment, I have revisited the work of Jeff Rich paying more attention the the entire story that he tells. I believe the story is ultimately about the relationship between man and the river. Man has polluted and destroyed much of the river, but there is a glimmer of hope as man in places is trying hard to improve ‘the river which has become an intricate part of their daily existence’.
Daylight Multimedia (2009) ‘Daylight January 2009 Podcast’ , available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwACRZaDLQk [accessed 8 Apr 15].
FlakPhoto.com (2012) ‘Watershed: The French Broad River’ [online], available: http://flakphoto.com/content/watershed-the-french-broad-river-jeff-rich-rod-slemmons#photo-1 [accessed 8 Apr 15].
Rich, J. (2015) Jeff Rich Photography [online], available: http://www.jeffreyrich.com/work.html [accessed 8 Apr 15].