Creating art from the spaces between Photographer captures NJ Meadowlands in new book

Photographer Joshua Lutz first experienced the New Jersey Meadowlands the way many people do.
“The Meadowlands was a place that I was passing through,” said Lutz, “and I think that’s pretty common. A lot of people see the Meadowlands as this place that you pass through on the way to someplace else. But that’s what actually drew me to the Meadowlands and I began to see it as a metaphor for all this other stuff…Speaking for myself personally, I saw it as a metaphor for loss, solitude, loneliness.”
Lutz eventually threw himself into multi-year meditation of the Meadowlands in an effort to try to capture and “articulate” those metaphors through photography.
The result is Meadowlands, Lutz’s first book of photographs, released this fall by Powerhouse Books. Ten years in the making, Meadowlands is a collection of 50 large format color photos of the New Jersey Meadowlands area.
Meadowlands and Lutz’s photography will be one of several segments featured in the upcoming NJN program State of the Arts, which will air later this week. For the program, the producer and film crew tag along with Lutz as he ventures into the Meadowlands and captures images using an accordion-style camera.
A graduate of the Bard College/International Center for Photography, Lutz said Meadowlands is “not meant to be a documentary work. I don’t in any way see this [the book] as a document of the Meadowlands at all. It is simply my take on the Meadowlands.”This perspective on the work helps to explain also why his book is simply titled Meadowlands, rather than The Meadowlands. “To call the book the Meadowlands would have sounded so declarative,” he said. The images in the book are simultaneously familiar – Snake Hill, the Hackensack River, and the Turnpike are all well represented – yet somehow jarring. Lutz’s photos, for instance, will often include a well-known landscape, yet something has been included in the frame that is off-beat, quirky, or just plain odd. One image, for instance is of a man posing in a lush field next to a gas station. Grass, weeds, and wildflowers come chest-high to the man, who looks like a cross between a gnome and the eerie Burger King icon featured in recent TV commercials. Another picture features a calm, picturesque “typical” Meadowlands scene – except a clothed mannequin lies face-down on an embankment. Lutz’s work is very reminiscent of a David Lynch film, and the photographer admits that Lynch “is one of my influences.” “I like to play with images so that what you’re seeing isn’t quite what you’re actually seeing,” Lutz noted. “[The cover image], for example looks like an aerial shot. But really what you’re seeing is [vegetation] and mud. But you wouldn’t know that unless I told you.” Indeed, many shots of the Hackensack River appear to be snow-covered plains, rather than water in motion. Lutz said he shot some of those images using a long exposure. Most of the work in the book is not spontaneous, Lutz said. Instead, he said he would often see something while visiting the Meadowlands; he’d get an idea for a photo, and then return to the area to recreate the image he had in his head. For the recreations, he said that he frequently used local residents as models and subjects of his work. It was a painstaking, time-consuming process, one of the reasons Meadowlands took a decade to complete. Rough landscape

“One very interesting feature of the Meadowlands is it’s one of the few places left where you actually have access to the land,” noted Lutz, who frequently takes shots of scenes in nature. Many places, what you’ll find is the land is ‘over there,’ and to access it you have to get through all sorts of barriers. Here, what’s really nice is, you can really get up in the land and be right on top of it.” As more development comes to the area, Lutz said he hopes the Meadowlands retains its rough unmanicured characteristics. “I’d hate for it to become this sort of planned space where you have your bike path over here, your walkway over there, a patch of grass with two trees in the middle,” Lutz commented. “We need to have a few places where the land isn’t groomed and it’s just allowed to be. I doubt I would have been as drawn to that kind of landscape.” Lutz and his photos will be featured on the NJN State of Arts program “Green” on Fri., Oct. 17 at 8:30 p.m. The program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Oct. 22 at 11:30 p.m. Photos from his book are currently on display at Clamp Art Gallery in New York City through Oct. 18. Comments on this story can be sent to


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