Alyssa McDonald is a lifelong New England resident and photographic artist based in Boston. In 2016, she graduated with from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. Alyssa’s work has been exhibited in national and international group shows including ROW DTLA for the Lucie Foundation’s Month of Photography Los Angeles; Millepiani Exhibition Space, Rome, IT; SE Center for Photography, Greenville, SC; Aviary Gallery in Boston, MA; The Rhode Island Photographic Arts Center in Providence, RI, and The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, MD. She was selected as one of Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 200 and received an honorable mention in the 12th Annual Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. Alyssa presently is a working artist and a photography studio manager/asisstant in Boston. Her first publication, “Continuum”, a triptych series with Abelardo Morell and Irina Rozovsky, was recently released by Yoffy Press.
“…. the best way to get a vivid impression and feeling of a landscape, is to sit down before it and read, or become otherwise absorbed in thought; for then, when your eyes happen to be attracted to the landscape, you seem to catch Nature at unawares, and see her before she has time to change her aspect. The effect lasts but for a single instant, and passes away almost as soon as you are conscious of it; but it is real for that moment. It is as if you could overhear and understand what the trees are whispering to one another; as if you caught a glimpse of a face unveiled, which veils itself from every willful glance. The mystery is revealed, and after a breath or two, becomes just as much a mystery as before.”
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twenty Days with Julian & Little Bunny, A Diary
The Quiet Corner
Tucked away in the quiet corner of Connecticut, stands a 19th century farmhouse, which is lovingly referred to in my great-grandmother’s handwriting on old yellowed family photographs as “Down The Hill”— her childhood home. One-hundred years ago, this house and its surrounding acres contained an entire world of dreams for my great-grandmother, Dena McCarthy, who was coming of age during the Great Depression. Her acute gaze transformed overlooked scenes into extraordinary encounters. From the roots of her childhood home, grew a life that was synchronous with the small wonders of her everyday environs. For the entirety of her ninety-six years, she was sustained by viewing the world around her with a lens of fervor and imagination. This perspective gave her solace— in the way the sun’s rays scattered across the surface of the water; in observing the transition from day to night, as the sun’s light pulled away from the front of her house at sunset; in the chorus of katydids humming from dusk until dawn; in watching the seasons change endlessly outside her window; in the warm glow emanating from a campfire; on walks in the forest behind her house looking for her favorite wildflowers; after moving to a new home just down the road nestled in a quiet cove on Lake Alexander, where she would spend the rest of her life, find love, build a family, lose everything to a fire and rebuild it from the ground up all over again.
One of yellowed photographs captures a younger version of my great-grandmother that I never knew. A woman in a white dress stands stoically on the trunk of a tree that has fallen in a storm. She seems to recede into the thicket of mangled branches surrounding her. Her memories and experiences on this land were the foundation of her mind when all else faded in her old age. The acres Dena called “Down the Hill” began to occupy my own thoughts in time; I longed to see them the way she held them in the limbo of her memories, before they were paved over into Interstate 395…. I wondered about this young woman in the trees, now hidden under her deep wrinkles as I held her hand and saw her disappear once more.
When photographing the landscapes in which my great-grandmother lost and found herself, I rely on synchronicity and patience as my guides— waiting for the light, the right time of year, for the atmosphere to shift, her favorite wildflower meadow to bloom. The photographs re-created from these experiences draw from a collective-long look upon landscapes that have been seen through the eyes of four generations of family, living over the course of one-hundred years. Drawing from multi-generational perspectives and narratives, I seek to activate sublime landscapes within everyday scenes that are both habitual and haunting— ones laden with meditations on home, loss, wonder, the passage of time and regeneration. Operating as a chapel of introspection for myself as well as the viewer, the images, although rendered luminously, recognizing longing and fragility, are alive with an intense, quiet reverence for the places, people and history we continually evolve from.
To view more of Alyssa McDonald’s work please visit her website.