Sean McFarland / 2009

Employing the breadth of photographic processes, Sean McFarland continues to challenge our expectations for the landscape. And through his artifice, the landscape is redefined.

The sixth Baum Award was presented to Sean McFarland under the curatorial supervision of Chuck Mobley of SF Camerawork.

"Sea", 2007-2008, from Pictures of the Earth Diffusion Transfer Print, 4.25 x 3.25"

“Sea”, 2007-2008, from Pictures of the Earth Diffusion Transfer Print, 4.25 x 3.25″

McFarland was born in 1976 in Southern California and began his studies in computers and technology at Humboldt State University before he was lured to the art scene. As he dabbled in photography his senior year of undergraduate studies, about to earn his Bachelor’s in Science, he received three university awards for his photography work in 2002. By then, convinced of his interest in the arts, he continued to work with photography at the California College of the Arts and received his Master of Fine Art in 2004.
In essence, McFarland’s work explores the relationships between history, photography, and the representation of landscape. As a lifelong Californian, McFarland was inspired by the landscape and, in his series entitled, Pictures of the Earth (2007-2012), he found a way to capture it authentically, yet differently, from the traditional iconic landscapes of the American West. His work considers our interaction with the landscape as well and the challenges of finding untouched terrain. He combines his own documentary-style photographs with found images to create mysterious and surreal landscapes in this series that earned him the Baum Award in 2009.


“Tracks”, 2008, from Pictures of the Earth Diffusion Transfer Print 4.25 x 3.25″

Working both digitally and in an analog environment, McFarland has often used photo collage to create imagined scenes that cannot be found in the real world. He then re-photographs the collages with a Polaroid MP4 camera. The resulting images are an intriguing exploration of the relationship between fact and fiction. This approach blends the spontaneity and perceived truthfulness of a Polaroid with the artifice of the new digital language. He notes, “By focusing on making images of the natural world I’m interested in making pictures of us, how we change the earth and how the earth changes us in return. I’m using Polaroid photographs as a witness to the landscape, showing us its history, our trace in it, and admiring its beauty.”

McFarland’s fantastical landscapes upend our perception of reality and challenge the veracity of the photograph. Continuing this examination of how we experience the natural world, his project, Dark Pictures (2007-2012), focuses on woodlands. From the darkness, fine details surprisingly emerge to reveal a lush image. Though they read as wilderness, in many instances the areas have been created by human interaction with the land.

"Cave", 2013, from Glass Mountains Silver Gelatin Print, 5x4"

“Cave”, 2013, from Glass Mountains Silver Gelatin Print, 5×4″

McFarland’s series titled, Glass Mountains (2012-present), continues the exploration of the landscape motif. The works include photographs of everyday objects physically altered and presented to mimic the natural landscape. Layered together in a manner reminiscent of nesting dolls, his landscapes demand attention, calling for a closer look at what is really there.

In 2009, in addition to receiving the Baum Award, McFarland was granted the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship and then in 2011 received the Eureka Fellowship. His photographs are held in collections at the Oakland Museum of California, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art Library in New York. He has exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum, White Columns, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Aperture Foundation. As of 2016, Sean McFarland lives in San Francisco and teaches art at San Francisco State University and is represented by Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco.


Credits – 2009 Baum Award

Host: SF Camerawork
Curator: Chuck Mobley
Jury: Chuck Mobley, Curator, SF Camerawork
Larry Sultan (1946-2009), artist and Professor of Photography, California College of the Arts
Lisa Sutcliffe, Curator of Photography and Media Arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum, former Assistant Curator, Department of Photography, SFMOMA
Pamela Lee, Jeanette and William Hayden Jones Professor in American Art and Culture, Stanford University
Vince Aletti, photography critic, The New Yorker magazine


Baum Award