by Kathleen Larsen
Twisting tornadoes, sliding land, flowing lava, crashing waves, and other naturally occurring phenomena greet visitors as they view the body of work titled The Quiet of Dissolution by Sonja Braas. Getting close to the action, Braas formally composes images of some of the most devastating disasters that impact humankind. Viewers stand a safe distance from the danger while Braas eagerly moves forward into the danger.
Mud slides down the side of a mountain covering everything in its wake in Landslide only stopping within inches of her camera lens. In Tornado, swirling debris can be seen with crisp clarity as the twirling wind violently splits the picture frame in two. Plumes of smoke hover above molten streams carving their path through blackened terrain and over a small structure in Lava Flow. And frozen waves reach skyward above violent tides ready to break atop the camera and its operator below in Wave. These images and others in the series “evoke emotions that range from voyeuristic horror to deep felt solidarity with the victims of these disasters.”
Viewers might question how Braas delivers sharply focused, close-to-the-action photographs of these devastating occurrences. The answer is surprising. She has found a way “to depict to depict the elusive, unforeseen catastrophe, which by its nature is unpredictable and thus leads to the reoccurring [sic] absence of media at the moment of disaster” by masterfully constructing and photographing these scenes in her safety of her studio.
Braas does not reveal her technique and gives no clues that these images are imaginary disasters occurring in places constructed in her studio in the artist's statement (scroll down to read her statement) that accompanies her images in The Quiet of Dissolution. However, further reading (The Beauty of Disaster by Berg and Bonn) reveals that the photographs are based “on large, self-made models” that appear “more convincing, more virulent than real nature.” It is this convincing reality that makes Braas’ images so appealing.