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Nature Calls 

Local photo show links nature and the human spirit

"Earth knows no desolation. She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay."
-- George Meredith

Local photographer and psychiatrist Jerry Stein spends most of his time thinking and writing about the role of nature and the dynamics of the human spirit. An avid outdoorsman, Stein grew up fishing and guiding fly-fishing expeditions for the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. He hikes the Rockies, fishes the mountain streams of the Rocky Mountain West, watches birds at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and chronicles the unique beauty of nature in elegant, large-format photographs that capture both the grandeur and intricacies of our local and nearby environment.

Currently, a show of Stein's nature images, The Role of Nature in the Human Spirit, is hanging at the Business of Art Center Annex in Manitou Springs. The photos there are of striated walls of red rock in Arizona's Antelope Canyon, of massive flocks of migrating waterfowl at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and of swirling trout in clear Colorado water. The experience of looking at the photos, though enclosed in an air-conditioned gallery, is similar to a quiet walk in the woods. Look closely and you'll understand something about the psychotherapist's interest in how nature impacts psychological development and well-being, and how it can be a catalyst for creativity and recovery from psychic injury. Look closer and you'll recognize the eye and technical skill of an accomplished fine art photographer.

"The water photos are trout-generated abstracts," said Stein of his stunning Black Rainbow series of photos, blue-patterned swirls of fish breaking the surface of clear water. "[The fish] are frolicking, feeding, just doing their trout thing. A thread that runs through the show is patterns that are both abstract and natural -- abstract in the sense that people may or may not see the patterns created by natural events in a natural setting."

Having scientific training, says Stein, he looks for patterns in the world and, naturally, finds them abundant in nature.

Stein's quest is to link patterns in nature with the patterns of growth and development in the human psyche. He says that his research documents evidence that his work with nature has helped his patients, and he presents his findings at medical schools and conferences. This fall he will present his work to the Council on Advanced Psychoanalytic Studies at Princeton University.

"In nature," says Stein in a videotaped presentation of his photos and his psychoanalytic theories, "gradual, predictable change is less jarring and easier to master than change in modern life. There's comfort in the predictability and reliability of nature's cycles."

There are challenges as well, both physical and mental; nature enhances sensory awareness, cultivates an appreciation for human depth, complexity and instinctual wildness, and provides moments of exhilaration.

"What heart has not been stirred by the sight of a V-flight of geese?" asks Stein.

One of his photos in the BAC show, "Eyes Left," shows two eagles sitting in the branches of a leafless tree, watching as a blur of thousands of migrating snow geese fills the background.

"With bird photos, it's more the formations that I'm looking for," he said. "Occasionally it's a pattern in the feathers, or in the shape of a wing. And there's an implied pattern in the sense that they're migrating every year -- a basic pattern of nature."

"Eyes Left" was framed and shot from one of the wooden platforms at the Bosque at around 5 in the afternoon, and starkly depicts another feature of nature, the struggle for survival. "I felt that all [the eagles] needed was a knife and fork," said Stein. "It's kind of guess who's coming to dinner."

-- Kathryn Eastburn

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