Crooked River: a visual immersion in the Cuyahoga

Ethiopian photographer and visual artist Michael Tsegaye presents his photo exhibition “Crooked River, a poetic immersion in the Cuyahoga river (Ohio, US) transformed by the viewers in an interactive experience.

The Cuyahoga river in Ohio used to be one of the most polluted river in the US. So polluted that it caught fires at least thirteen times since 1868, when industrialization begun in the area. The last fire was in 1969: the media coverage generated mass attention and boosted the requests by the environmental movement in the US, contributing to shape the country’s environmental laws. 

For the 50th anniversary of the last river’s fire, the Cleveland Print Room Gallery, as their Creative Fusion Artist-in-Residence , invited me to create a body of work that celebrates the river. 

The resulting exhibition opened on June 26 and it will be displayed until August 3. It features two sets of photographs through which I tried to create an immersive experience. 

The first set were aerial photographs I had taken from a helicopter that traced its way from Cleveland’s riverside industrial zone to the Cuyahoga’s headwaters by Lake Erie. These were printed on large sheets of vinyl and laid out, in varying orientations, to cover the gallery’s floor, giving the viewers a perspective similar to the one I experienced on the helicopter.

The second set of black and white photographs were suspended from the gallery’s ceiling at eye level and reflected the river’s surrounding environment more intimately.

Much to my surprise, the exhibition became interactive—people began to make videos on their phone cameras, creating short sketches of their interactions with the photographs.

I was also struck by the fact that my unfamiliarity with the river, gave me the freedom to freely work on the project, without any attachment to its physical landmarks. It was a purely spiritual and poetic experience.


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