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Hudson River Museum exhibits an impressive portfolio of Hudson River bridges images by Harry Wilks
Harry Wilks, Bear Mountain Bridge, 2010.

YONKERS, NY.- The Hudson River has always played a key role in the development of this region—it could also be a barrier. Before the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge opened in 1888, ferries offered the only access from shore to shore below Albany. It took 36 more years for the Bear Mountain Bridge to provide a transit further south and for general traffic. Hudson River crossings continue to provide infrastructure vital to the economy and to our daily lives. At the same time, their impressive scale and construction have long attracted artists and photographers who see in their grandeur a type of industrial sublime.

Since the early 1970s, Harry Wilks has photographed numerous architectural structures, including an impressive portfolio of Hudson River bridges. In his photographs, Wilks seeks out locations where people have left a mark on the landscape, which he finds enhances the beauty of the river. The current display highlights six examples from the Museum’s permanent collection and three on loan from the artist.

Until 2005, the photographer used a classic Widelux camera, which employed a pivoting lens to create panoramic exposures. The process causes extreme distortions of scale, which Wilks exploited with striking results. Since then, he has moved from analog to digital cameras, using a variety of techniques to achieve his desired effects, including sometimes printing in color or combining images.

In each of his photographs, Harry Wilks shows us the Hudson River from a new perspective. Girders and railings frame or bisect the views; lines of structures intersect with lines in nature, leading our eyes in and around his compositions. He says: “By emphasizing the man-made elements, which sometimes loom large in the foreground, as well as by moving in close with a wide-angle lens, I alter the scene and create a sense of place that is realistic, but also personal and strange.”

A sense of place that is realistic, personal and strange
The interaction between the natural world and manmade structures has been a consistent preoccupation in my work. I seek out locations where people have left a mark on the landscape — which could be a building, guardrail, or girder. Simply focusing on what is conventionally seen as beautiful is not enough of a reason to take a photograph. For me, the Hudson becomes something more than just a beautiful river because of the bridges that cross over it, and the roads and train tracks along its banks. By emphasizing the manmade elements, which sometimes loom large in the foreground, as well as by moving in close with a wide-angle lens, I alter the scene and create a sense of place that is realistic, but also personal and strange.

I began taking photographs near the Hudson River in 1985, when I visited the Untermeyer Estate in Yonkers, NY, returning several times to photograph its overgrown ruins. Over the past thirty years, I’ve explored areas along both sides of the river, from New York City up to the mid-Hudson valley. Some of these photographs are included in my 2009 book, “Scanning the Horizon”. The current exhibit at the Hudson River Museum, “Hudson River Bridges,” includes photographs of bridges crossing the river from New York City up to Poughkeepsie, NY.

Harry Wilks explores the quirky rhythms of urban and manmade rural environments from rooftops in New York City and from bridges that span the waterways of the region. His photographs have been on exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hudson River Museum, the International Center of Photography, the George Eastman House, and the Museum of the City of New York, among other venues. Wilks’ work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, International Center of Photography, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hudson River Museum, George Eastman House, New-York Historical Society, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Kalamazoo Institute of Art, and the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, as well as corporate and private collections.

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