AIR at 40: The Early Years: A Decade of Photography, Part Three

By Jenny Zeller

Nature and photography are completely intertwined. It’s because of the natural world that the photographic medium was finally recognized as a valid art form. And it’s because of photography that large blocks of the natural world have been protected. After 1980-82 AIR Paul Fields, the program hosted nearly a decade of fine art landscape photographers. At a time long before digital technology consumed the photography market, these works harken back to days of film with prints developed in the darkroom that also documents areas of Bernheim that no longer exist in the same fashion. This is the third in a series of three that highlights the early artistic contributions of Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program through the lens of photography. (click here to see part one, click here to see part two


Untitled by 1989 AIR Ray Metzker.

1989 Artist in Residence Ray Metzker

Ray K. Metzker was a daring and brilliant photographer who challenged the notions of black and white photography. Metzker was able to capture images of people on the urban streets of American cities and create photographs of “every one” while doing so with the eye of an artist. He manipulated images, often creating abstraction and modernist motifs in his work. In the 1980s, he also turned his eye to landscapes and in 1989, spent part of the year photographing the forests of Bernheim. Challenged by their density and darkness he created images that were complex layers of pattern, depth and abstraction. Metzker said that his goal was “a unique way of seeing,” one in which “new eyes replaced the old.”

Metzker had more than 50 one-man exhibitions in major museums all over the world. His work is in more than 45 collections, including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography. Aperture published a significant monograph of his landscape work to coincide with the opening of an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2000 that traveled nationally. Metkzer died at the age of 83 in 2014.

Untitled by 1989 AIR Ray Metzker.


1990/1991 Artist in Residence Christopher Burkett

Autumn Reflections by 1990/1991 AIR Christopher Burkett.

Christopher Burkett uses the American landscape to explore the sacred in nature. Through his striking a detailed photographic images, he beckons the view were to feel the light and power inherent in the tapestry of creation. Burkett has quickly become a recognized national expert in the laborious Cibachrome printing method. He meticulously hand-prints his 8 x 10” transparencies to 20 x 24” with phenomenal sharpness and rich tonality.

Today Burkett travels extensively throughout the United States to photograph. His masterful printing and numerous exhibitions rapidly brought him international acclaim. His photographs are featured in many public and private fine art collections. Burkett also has taught several workshops sponsored through the Friends of Photography and Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

Bernheim is honored to have 22 Christopher Burkett photos in our private collection, half of which are on display within our facilities and other the half available for viewing in the Photographic Archives at the University of Louisville’s Special Collections.

Young Red Maple by 1990/1991 AIR Christopher Burkett.



Untitled by 1992 AIR Lynn Geesaman.

1992 Artist in Residence Lynn Geesaman

Trained originally as a scientist, Lynn Geesaman photographed engineered landscapes such as public parks, orchards, and formal gardens, emphasizing composition, geometry, and form over subject matter.

Untitled by 1992 AIR Lynn Geesaman.

This tension between abstraction and representation is present in much of her work, achieved partly through a personally developed printing technique that intensified color and suppressed detail. It was actually Geesaman’s Bernheim residency in 1992 that inspired her exploration of color photography. Her dreamlike imagery has a beautiful, otherworldly presence that evokes the early Pictorialist photographers.

Geesaman has won numerous grants and awards including the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship in 1991, and the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Visual Arts Fellowship Award for the Midwest, 1993-1994. There are three monographs published on her entitled “Poetics of Place,” 1998,  “Gardenscapes,” 2004, and “Hazy Lights and Shadows: Lynn Geesaman,” 2007.

Her work has been exhibited in numerous institutions including International Center of Photography, New York; The Houston Center for Photography; The Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York; Tucson Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe. Her work is represented in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris.



Over ninety works of fine art nature photographs produced by Bernheim Artists in Residence are on permanent loan and available for viewing in the Photographic Archives at the University of Louisville’s Special Collections


2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program. Established in 1980, this internationally renowned program annually awards artists the opportunity to live and create site-specific work inspired by their total immersion experience at Bernheim. Throughout 2020, we are celebrating the contributions of the program’s past that has allowed our visitors to experience nature in a new way while enhancing awareness of Bernheim’s mission of connecting people to nature.

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