“Even though I am drawing from observations of the real world, I am not a documentary photographer,” says Skagit Valley (in northwest Washington State)-based photographer Eugénie Frerichs. Despite this statement, Eugénie’s work is not staged, not elaborately composted or heavily manipulated. Instead, the photographer fictionalises scenarios through re-sequencing real moments, “recontextualising images in order to draw out new associations.”
For the past five years, Eugénie has been focussing her attention on water, using it as a theme throughout her work. Her ongoing series, Scorpio, is one example of this. Taken in the desert of southern California, it’s a project about “seeking adaptation, resilience, and survival,” centred around what happens where there is a distinct lack of water. “A certain kind of person is drawn to the desert, and usually for reasons that are hard to explain. Maybe because it’s empty. Vast. Quiet,” Eugénie comments. “I was drawn to the desert because it was so foreign – being from the Pacific Northwest, the total absence of water was for me bewildering and terrifying. But after spending extended periods of time out there I learned that life – albeit strange – was abundant, and those that survived in the desert were incredibly resilient and hardy.”
As a result, the work became an homage to that, and to those that put up with conditions which aren’t conducive to everyday life. Even Eugénie’s body, and equipment, was forced to adapt as the series went on. “One of my favourite pictures from the series is a shot of the hood of my truck, where one day it was so dry that the paint spontaneously burst and peeled back, exposing the metal underneath. We’re drawn to the desert and we won’t leave unscathed. That both impresses and scares the shit out of me,” she tells us. Moments like these are peppered throughout the series which channels the impossible living conditions through uncomfortable crops and harsh shadows.
Scorpio is, of course, a metaphor for something far beyond that specific desert, however. It imagines a world where the planet has morphed entirely into a desert, a manifestation of the potentially disastrous consequences of our current environmental situations. “During my time living in southern California it was easy for me to get apocalyptic about the water situation, to marvel at how easily water was being wasted, and to assume that someday all of the water would in fact run out,” she continues.
Having only moved back to Skagit Valley from California last year with her partner Garrett Grove, Eugénie’s new environment continues to impact her work. Although “repeatedly drawn to projects that teach [her] something new about how people relate to and interact with the natural world or natural systems in the modern day,” this is now more prevalent than ever. Eugénie is currently completing her MFA and working on another project about water, a somewhat prequel to Scorpio which explores southern California’s water system through the dynamics of one small valley (Ojai).
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