Visions of the Natural World at the Parrish

In Water Mill
Renate Aller’s photograph “Mountain Interval #97” is one of a series taken at mountain ranges on six continents.

The photographs of Renate Aller and Jean-Luc Mylayne reflect an obsessive focus on the poetry and mystery of the natural world. On Sunday, the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill will open solo exhibitions of each artist’s work that complement each other while at the same time highlighting the differences between their approaches to their subject matter.

“Renate Aller: The Space Between Memory and Expectations” consists of 12 large-scale archival pigment prints by the German-born artist, who now lives in New York City. The immersive installation draws from two series, “Ocean/Desert” and “Mountain Interval” and has been designed to present a compositionally unified panorama that moves smoothly between images.

In 1999, Ms. Aller began to photograph the ocean from the same vantage point on the south shore of Long Island at different times of day throughout the year. While the horizon lines ground the ocean views, the variations in weather, sky, and surf create dramatic changes of color and mood among the images. 

The desert photographs were taken in the sand dunes of New Mexico and Colorado, which she visited five times between 2011 and 2013. Like the ocean photographs, the desert images reflect Ms. Aller’s painterly approach to the textures and details of her subjects.

“Mountain Interval” replaces the horizontal planes of “Ocean/Desert” with the dramatic diagonals of vast mountain ranges photographed across six continents. Like the ocean and desert images, these lack a human presence, but the mountain images have been created 

by layering photographs taken at different times and in different places, resulting in images of Ms. Aller’s invention.

To say that Mr. Mylayne has been photographing birds for more than 30 years, while true, radically oversimplifies his photographic approach and practice. “Jean-Luc Mylayne: A Matter of Place” features nine large-scale C-prints taken by the French photographer in the American Southwest.

Mr. Mylayne is neither a documentarian nor a naturalist. Each image is the result of weeks or even months of preparation that involve scouting a site, locating birds in the field, and settling into the landscape in order to acclimate himself and his subjects to each other before determining the precise moment to take the photograph. 

He doesn’t set out to capture the likeness of the bird. Indeed, in many of the images the bird is a mere speck within the overall compositions, which express how human beings can coexist with the inhabitants of the natural world.

Mr. Mylayne also designs his own lenses so that, unbound by conventional limitations of depth of field, he can direct the viewer around the frame by varying soft and sharp focus at will. Because of the technical challenges he sets for himself and the time required to set up for and await each image, Mr. Mylayne has created only 150 unique photographs during his 42-year career.   

The exhibition of Mr. Mylayne’s photographs will remain on view through July 20, Ms. Aller’s through July 28.

In Jean-Luc Mylayne’s “No. 360, Janvier-Fevrier, 2006,” the photographer’s self-designed lens allows for variations in sharp and soft focus throughout the frame.