A visit with Atlanta photographer Lucinda Bunnen
by Andrew Alexander
July 8, 2019
Featured Image: Nature Reclaims by Lucinda Bunnen (All images courtesy the artist/Marcia Wood Gallery)
“It’s kind of dark,” Lucinda Bunnen warns me. “Is that okay?”
In truth, it’s probably not okay. We are standing at the top of an old, rickety staircase leading down into the dark basement of an abandoned house deep in the woods. These are all things I normally avoid.
But strangely, one tends to feel a little more adventurous and curious around Lucinda. I’m enjoying the sense of exploration. We head downstairs.
Lucinda is showing me the locations that appear in the photographs of her latest show, A Spring Walk in My Woods, currently at Atlanta’s Marcia Wood Gallery. “I’m about to be 90,” she tells me. “I thought it’s a good time to have a show, to show people you can still work at 90. You don’t have to stop at 65.”
Her dogs, Sacagawea and Zorro, are with us on this walk through the woods near her home. They’re good companions to have on an adventure, and they both appear frequently in the new images. Lucinda says she often photographs things, like the puddles in her driveway, and she’s surprised later to find out that her dogs appear in the photographs. “I don’t plan anything,” she says. “It all just happens.”
Kids from nearby private schools often come to the abandoned house in her woods for what Lucinda wryly refers to as “science experiments.” The experiments also involve breaking all the mirrors and windows.
I ask if she ever knew her former neighbors, the wealthy family — mother, father, kids, and a nanny in a separate little basement apartment — that once lived in this mid-century modern house built for them deep in the woods in the 1950s. “I never did,” she says.
Although she’s lived in bustling Buckhead for decades, she’s separated from her neighbors by acres of forest. She says she seldom knows, or even sees, the people who live nearby. I tell her how nice I think that sounds. “It’s great,” she says. “I don’t have to deal with anyone.”
The show is titled A Spring Walk in My Woods, and the images are primarily of things that Lucinda has observed on the daily walks she takes in the quiet woods behind her home, including the abandoned house.
In the pictures, I’ve imagined there’s deep contemplation of spring itself, observations of the cycles of life and death, the grays and browns pierced with green, a statement about the decay of things past always giving rise to new growth in the present.
I’ve come prepared to ask Lucinda all about spring. But it’s quickly apparent I’ve latched onto the wrong part of the title. “No, I didn’t have any grand ideas about spring,” she says.
In fact, after many years of waiting and strategizing, Lucinda recently acquired the abandoned house. The property connects her own home to 17 acres of forest land on Nancy Creek that she’s owned for decades. “I’m so thrilled to have it,” she says of the recent purchase. “I’ve been walking on the driveway all these years to get to my trail, but now I own it.”
The three pieces of property now all belong to her, and they all finally adjoin. The photographs don’t show “a spring walk in my woods” so much as “a spring walk in my woods.” She would have torn the old house down, she says, but everyone who visits seems to enjoy going through it so much.
“Here’s the bison,” she says about an old log we pass. I squint, but I don’t see much of anything besides a log.
“Yes, you see it,” she insists. I’m patient with this, knowing that Lucinda often sees interesting things before other people do. “The head?” she says. “The hind leg? The eye right there.” Slowly, I start to see them.
Lucinda points out a dragon, a dancer, a sleeping giant, the figures she sees in boulders, old logs, fallen branches. “I had been looking at all these things and building them in my mind. I was taking pictures with my cell phone. I decided I could have a show.”
But the show almost didn’t happen. The first time Lucinda carried a tripod down the old driveway to capture better photographs of what she was seeing, she fell. Both she and the tripod went tumbling. “I thought, I can’t do this.” But she tried again with the help of a friend, and she eventually managed to take all the images in the early spring.
After our walk, I sip coffee at Lucinda’s kitchen table and flip through a set of work prints from the show. I recognize some opposing but reconciled impulses in them: There’s a steely determination to step out into the world, but also a serene acceptance that the world always exists close by, at one’s own address.
I’m delighted to come across an image of The Dancer, something I couldn’t see at all during our walk in the woods. But I instantly spot the human figure in the photograph. And the more I look, the more clearly and satisfyingly the branches seem to resemble the torso and limbs of a female dancer in motion. She’s taking a wide running step, coming out from behind a tree.
The picture of the dancer makes me remember an upcoming show at the High Museum I wanted to mention to Lucinda. It’s a new dance performance by Atlanta choreographer Lauri Stallings, who happens to be a mutual friend. I ask Lucinda if she plans to attend the show.
“I’m in it,” she says. Lucinda’s not entirely certain what Lauri has enlisted her to do yet, but she tells me there’s a role for her in the new performance. I’m astounded for a moment, but then I think: Well, of course, she’s in it. In Lucinda’s woods, amazing things are always right there, as obvious as they can be, just waiting for her to come and find them.
Andrew Alexander is an Atlanta-based writer and founder of The Alexander Report.
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