Steve Geer

  • Jan. 12 - April 30, 2021, 9:30 am US/Central


Fermilab Arts & Lectures At Home presents a Virtual Gallery Talk – Imagining Reality – a photographic journey – Steve Geer

As a Fermilab scientist we are trained to imagine how the real world works and then create theories or experiments or new technologies. The arts work in a similar way: imagine and then create.  I will describe this process as applied to various photographic projects that I have been exhibited in galleries in the U.S. and Europe and published in books and magazines.

Tuesday January 12, 2021 7:30 CT

View recorded presentation

On display virtually January 12, 2021 through April 30, 2021


River Ice – artist statement

Deep in the winter, after the water has lost its summer heat, the river that flows through the center of Chicago will sometimes freeze. Not the whole river, just the top layer which becomes decorated with broken ice. When this happens, it’s as if a cold finger is poking into the heart of the city from Lake Michigan. Sunlight and city lights are reflected from the ice and, when it’s newly washed and wet, the frozen water also reflects the cityscape. Tall skyscrapers are transformed into two-dimensional geometric forms with occasional splashes of glowing reds and greens and yellows captured within the blueness of the ice floe. It’s magical.

Each year I look forward to this transformation of the Chicago River. Unfortunately, it does not freeze often, and when it does, it does not remain frozen for long. Usually just a few days before the water warms by one or two degrees and the ice melts.

While it lasts, the floating ice is always in motion, and the compositions formed by its broken sheets and irregular polygons are forever changing. The textured surface also evolves and its appearance changes with the light as the day progresses and clouds come and go. This changing light can yield color palettes that vary from fiery-heat to frigid-cold. I could spend the whole day photographing the varying colors and abstract forms of the frozen river. In fact, I have spent much of several winter days doing just that, giving up only when the cold has penetrated too far into flesh and bone.

I began the project River Ice in January 2017. Since then I have revisited the frozen river each season. Each year the ice-cover, its appearance and its extent, has been different. To observe and communicate just how varied the spectacle can be has therefore required more than dawn until dusk photography in a single day, or even for several days in a single year. It has required a multi-year project. The resulting series of images is, for me, a celebration of the phenomenology of winter. It’s a celebration of the natural world reaching into the center of the human world, and of things that are novel because they are ever changing and brief.

Finally, whilst pursuing River Ice I was reminded of the work of the Dutch-American abstract-expressionist painter Willem de Kooning – the paintings in which the picture-plane is divided into large irregular shapes and the surface is decorated with splashes of color. Having made this connection, the River Ice images have changed the way I see not just de Kooning’s paintings, but a much broader class of abstract paintings. A photographic project is particularly satisfying when it changes the way we see other things in the world around us. Photographer Dorothea Lange appreciated this when she famously noted: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.


  • From the series "River Ice"