Playgrounds for the Mind: The Metaphoric Eye
This slide presentation dives deeply into the photographic landscape genre by skipping over traditional place-evoking views to look closely at the rocks themselves—in search of their suggestive power as metaphor. Having immersed myself in Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist art—the last schools of Modernism—I have discovered their themes in rock formations around the world. These are purely natural forms that, properly framed and processed, can stir up desires, dreams and fears in the vast underground of our unconscious (as Surrealism seeks to do), as well as offer visual representations of energy itself (the overall aim of Abstract Expressionism).
JOEL SIMPSON began conscious life enamored of nature, collecting and studying rocks, fossils, insects and seashells. He taught himself photography starting at age 13, beginning with a fascination with landscapes. His formal studies broadened out into literature, music, psychology, history, languages, and modern and contemporary art, including a PhD from Brown in comparative literature (1976) and a Master of Music from Loyola (New Orleans, 1994), with a focus on theory and criticism. He was also a performing and composing jazz pianist for 22 years, based in New Orleans.
Since returning to photography as a professional in 2002, he explored a number of photographic genres, but found himself drawn back to his childhood passion, rocks. Having immersed himself in 20th Century art, he discovered formal resonances in geological subjects with stylistic gestures and aesthetic approaches of Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters. The resulting rock images barely fit into standard landscape categories—so he invented his own: geological photography.
Simpson’s work has been exhibited in Paris (Musée de l’érotisme), Tours, Rome, Barcelona, and many US galleries and art fairs. His images have been published in Silvershotz (Australia), View Magazine (Brussels), Camera Arts (Boulder, CO) and Focus Exposures (online). Having explored many photographic modes (e.g. social documentary, figure studies, scrap metal, portraiture, fashion, archaeology), he now focuses on geological and landscape photography. He went around the world in 2014 and continues to travel extensively in search of provocative mineral formations.
In 2007 Simpson curated a 125-artist photography show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical (WAH) Center in Brooklyn, Sun Pictures to Mega-Pixels, focusing on non-silver-based photography. The WAH Center continues to show and collect his work. He has lectured and taught photography extensively, including seminars on the Colorado Plateau. His awards include ten Black and White Spider Awards (2012–2020, UK), and was named one of the “10 Best Landscape Photographers of 2019” and one of the “18 Best Landscape Photographers of 2021” by One Eyeland (India). His 168-pp book, Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, was featured on the cover of Natural History magazine (June, 2019), and won the 2019 Nautilus Gold Award for Art and Photography. A shorter book, Playgrounds for the Mind: The Art of Geological Photography (50 pp., 2021), distills his original approach to photographing rock formations for their metaphorical charge.