Marion Belanger

am interested most broadly in the concepts of persistence and change, and in the way that boundaries demarcate difference. For me the boundary references metaphorical states or physical differences, and it serves as the borderline between knowing and mystery, inside and outside.

     For nearly a decade, I have been making photographs that document transition and change in relationship to the land. My forthcoming book, Everglades: Outside and Within, takes the boundary of Everglades National Park as a demarcation point between the wildness of inside the park, characterized by the green of nature, the lushness of growth and the dark of emptiness, and outside the boundary where agriculture, water control, and housing development define the space. The title also refers to the process of moving into the actual, from a place that is imagined and interior.

     My projects usually originate from readings I do where a particular place or a characteristic of the land is described. Susan Orlean in her book The Orchid Thief described the Florida landscape: "The wild part of Florida is really wild. The tame part is really tame. Both, though, are always in flux . . . . Transition and mutation merge into each other, a fusion of wetness and dryness, unruliness and orderliness, nature and artifice."

     The text forms an impression, and sets up feelings of anticipation around the giving up of the imagined image for the actuality of the real. This mirrors a fact of the photographic medium; a latent image sits fully formed upon the exposed film, a trace of the real, only visible once the negative is processed. The imagined image and the latent image co-exist; only the fact of the photograph will reveal the reality of the photographer's choices.

     My current project, Continental Drift: Iceland/California, is structured around the geologic boundary that forms the edge of the North Atlantic Continental Plate. I was particularly interested in the fact that this geological boundary has no political allegiance, was not determined by wars, by financial interest, or national demarcation. It is a boundary that cannot be controlled or contained by human intervention; rather, it is determined by forces deep in the earth. Texts that influenced this work include Basin and Range by John McPhee and Simon Winchester's A Crack in the Edge of the World.

     In Iceland, the North American Plate is moving westward, creating new crust as magma pushes up from the mantle. Geologically, this marks a divergent boundary, characterized by splitting earth, steaming hot water and a young lava landscape almost devoid of trees. The land is unstable and raw. Geothermal forces are utilized for electricity and hot water.

     In California, the Pacific plate is sliding north relative to the North American plate, which means that eventually, in many millions of years, Los Angeles will be where San Francisco is now. While this transformative plate boundary is characterized by earthquake activity, it lacks the spectacular drama of a divergent boundary such as what is found in Iceland. The landscape is often mundane, striking in its ordinariness. The monotone housing developments built on top of the fault seem to deny the existence of the unstable earth below the surface. The ordered built environment ignores the actuality of the land, a dangerous disconnect.

     I can become lost in the formal aspects of picture making, where subject becomes almost irrelevant. Robert Adams in his book Along Some Rivers speaks of being absorbed in the structure of things as they appear in the viewfinder, specifically the sunlight, even when the subject matter is devastating.

     I do not have a rigid agenda when I photograph. I spend a lot of time looking. I almost always photograph alone as I work intensely, and with total immersion in the process. I work slowly. My everyday life is filled with compromises, yet when I am photographing it is fully about seeing and making.

Continental Drift: California

Shore of Bodega Bay
20" x 24"

Street in Daly City (California)
20" x 24"

Point Reyes #1
20" x 24"

Mussel Rock Park, Daly City (California)
20" x 24"

Continental Drift: Iceland

Hot River, Hveragerdi
20" x 24"

Heimey (Shovel)
20" x 24"

20" x 24"

Heimey (Drape)
20" x 24"


Visual artist Marion Belanger has been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the recipient of a John Anson Kittredge Award, an American Scandinavian Fellowship, and Connecticut Commission on the Arts Fellowships, and has been an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony, at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, at the Virginia Center for the Arts and at Everglades National Park. She earned an MFA from the Yale University School of Art, where she was the recipient of both the John Ferguson Weir Award and the Schickle-Collingwood Prize, and a BFA from the College of Art & Design at Alfred University. Her photographs are included in many permanent collections including the Library of Congress, the Corcoran Museum of Art, the Yale University of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the International Center of Photography. She was the 2007 Photographer Laureate of Tampa, FL. Her forthcoming book of photographs of South Florida, Everglades: Outside and Within, with an introduction by Susan Orlean, will be released by the Center for American Places at Columbia College and the University of Georgia Press in early 2009. She is currently photographing the shifting edges of the North Atlantic Continental Plate in Iceland and California. Marion Belanger resides in Guilford, Connecticut.

32 Poems
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