When landscape photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum had the idea to add texture to his images, he went to many countries searching not only for the appropriate medium, but also for the technique that would lend the most artistic integrity to his work.
In 1986, he began collaborating with China’s Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute.
Some of the embroiderers at the Suzhou center, led by master Meifang Zhang, were 10th and 12th generation, and in China, embroidery is practiced as a fine art, not as a utilitarian craft.
Using fine, hand-dyed silk threads on different fabrics, Ketchum created photorealistic interpretations of landscape photographs — an amazing feat that looks like Chinese art and takes embroidery to an impressive new place.
Ketchum uses a process called random stitch embroidery, in which he composes like a painter with stitches of differing colors and lengths, in both deliberate and random directions.
In this piece, Tree and Branches with Heavy Snow (1997), the dimensionality of the surface ranges from a fine, almost translucent silk and synthetic blend background to densely stitched elements of the landscape, particularly the amassing snow.
The delicacy of the work captures the light and becomes surprisingly dramatic.
The artist has said that his embroidery —which takes many months to create — represents the essence of an image, its aesthetic intent, rather than an exact copy.
Ketchum started his career 50 years ago photographing musicians, including Jim Morrison, in Los Angeles nightclubs.
A camping trip to Big Sur turned his attention to the environment: He wanted to create photography to raise awareness.
He has since exhibited in many U.S. museums and galleries, as well as the Annenberg Space for Photography and the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies.
In 2011, he was the subject of a 45-year retrospective exhibition at Palm Beach Photographic Centre in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Although Ketchum works mostly on commission, his photography and embroidery continues to attract the attention of photography collectors and enthusiasts, as well as people concerned about the environment.