A woman reclines on a tumble of lichen-covered volcanic rocks. At first, she is concealed; her angular knees and elbows echo the jutting rocks and her bare flesh blends seamlessly with the tone of the lichen. She is neither imposed on the landscape, nor is her feminine form crudely juxtaposed with the terrain: the woman appears to be dozing with her face up to the expanse of Northern sky. The scene is steeped in the vision of Arcadia – the sparsely populated mountain region in ancient Greece which gave us the poetic ideal of harmony with nature. And so, Melbourne-based photographer Clare Plueckhahn introduces the viewer to her new series, Running with Wolves.
The title draws from Jungian psychoanalyst and author Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ 1992 bestselling book, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman. Here, Pinkola Estés, who is a specialist in social and psychological patterns in cultural groups, analyses twenty myths from various societies that contain the all but forgotten archetypal wild woman. She is exemplified in one instance as the gnarled witch in Vasilisa the Beautiful who puts the initially hapless heroine through a series of tests, endowing her not only with inextinguishable fire, but the agency to leave her abusive family and attain success. The wild women uncovered in this book have sharp instincts; they harbour primal female knowledge, predating religion (including pagan), and cultural expectations. For them, over-civilisation is death. And in the age of the Anthropocene – the epoch of human impact on the environment and ecosystems – it seems these wise women are unheeded to the detriment of all.
The concept for Running with wolves had its inception in a screen writing class in 2016. Plueckhahn says, “I did know from the outset that I wanted to shoot on a medium format film camera that I feel gives the image a tactile, raw yet soft quality – similar to a painting.” In contrast, she sought locations that were “volatile and wild”. In Iceland these included Reykjavik Lava Fields, Svínafellsjökull glacier and the basalt sea stacks at Reynisfjara. Plueckhahn has presented this series as a collection of pairs – one photograph inhabited by the presence of a woman, the other barren, so to speak. Presented in this way, the images allude to creative cycles in both human endeavour and nature: life and death, growth and erosion.
In March 2018, Plueckhahn – twenty-five-weeks pregnant with twins – travelled to the US to shoot on location in Arizona, New Mexico and California. With the imminent arrival of her daughters, she trusted her instincts to navigate not only the terrain but the inherent dangers of a risky pregnancy. In one photograph, the artist herself is present. Plueckhahn, heavy with life, surveys the horizon over the Badlands of the mythically named Death Valley. Our gaze travels over her form and out into the expanse, to follow her vision.
Written by Varia Karipoff