"Coming upon the remains of war," says Lewis Koch. "In an incredibly remote and very pristine, stark landscape." This extraordinary experience inspired Bomber: A Chance Unwinding, the Madison photographer's new installation in the Watrous Gallery at the Overture Center.
Employing maps, archival stills, text and Koch's color images, the exhibition opens June 24, in tandem with Fixture Project, Milwaukee artist Mark Klassen's show of sculptures and serigraphs depicting things that protect us from real and imagined dangers. A reception begins at 5:30 p.m.
On a night flight in June 1943, a B-17 Flying Fortress - bound for Nebraska from Oregon, en route to World War II's European theater - went missing. Its wreckage was found two years later in Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness, along an isolated ridge soon christened Bomber Mountain.
Koch encountered the debris in 2006. A devotee of maps and the encompassing Bighorn Mountains, he had long known of the crash but was still stunned to confront its wreckage. "It was," he says, "awesome in the old and true sense of that word."
Eight hours from the trailhead and an hour off the beaten path, above tree line, at 12,000 feet, he found himself amid a vast boulder array that looked "as if the top of the mountain had been bombed by geological forces, not the crash." What was left of the B-17 lay scattered across a broad debris field. Koch lingered, taking dozens of photographs.
Reviewing them stirred reflection. "As with so much of my work," Koch explains, he has discovered in these photographs "where I'm going after I'm there."
His thoughts have since ranged from the 10 men who died in the crash to the multitudes killed and maimed by B-17s deployed to Europe and the Pacific during World War II, from 9/11 to continuing conflict, from war's human toll to its desecration of wilderness. These ideas are evident in the installation's use of elements like cartographic details depicting B-17 targets during World War II.
Koch's work can be as elusive as it is powerful. "I'm not interested in telling people what to think," he emphasizes, preferring they draw their own conclusions. He cites examples including his 2006 garage installation When Things Dream and his online exhibition Touchless Automatic Wonder.
With Bomber, he again hopes to stir viewers' contemplation while conveying his own sense of wonder.