On a snowy day in 2011, Jennifer Moller was on a Wellfleet marsh with her medium-format camera, looking for images. She photographed a singular tidal pool, positioning it at the bottom of her composition, a circular shape under a stormy gray sky.
“I fell in love with it,” Moller says of the picture. “It was such a gift.”
Over the next seven years, she photographed the pool in every season, creating hundreds of photographs. A selection of them is now on view in her exhibition “Pools: Mighty Plenitude” at the Wellfleet Public Library.
The project began after Moller’s return to the Outer Cape from Santa Fe, where she had been an artist in residence at the Institute of American Indian Arts. “I had just come back, and I went into the marsh,” she says, adding that the contrast in geographies fascinated her. She describes herself as nomadic.
“I was looking to quiet my mind,” Moller says. In addition to her frequent moves, she had been busy teaching and pursuing a creative life as a multidisciplinary artist.
Moller started taking photographs in high school with her father’s Polaroid camera. Her twin sister later bought Moller her own camera, and she began to understand herself. “I was an artist but thought photography was a way to make a living,” says Moller. “And it was.” After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1981 with a degree in Latin American studies, she worked in editorial photography before gravitating toward teaching.
Commercial work supported her, but she was “hungry to go more in the direction of fine art,” she says. She entered an M.F.A. program at the Maine College of Art in 2001, choosing it for its conceptual bent, and focused on digital and video art. After graduating in 2003, she began creating installations and organizing community art events, including a series of video shows at PAAM. Eventually, she found her way back to the still image.
“The video stuff was too much,” says Moller. “I really wanted to pare it down and get some grounding.” She returned to her “old friend,” her medium-format Hasselblad camera, and found a meditative space in the salt marshes.
“The great thing about photography is that it’s quiet,” says Moller.
The photographs in her exhibition convey that quietude. Moller works within strict parameters. All her photographs are taken from the same perspective, which achieves a unity of composition. The photographs capture an open, empty view of the land: the tidal pool sits at the bottom of the image. Beyond it is a salt marsh, Cape Cod Bay, a thin strip of land, and the sky, which fills over half of the composition.
While the photographs are beautiful individually, they take on a deeper resonance when viewed together. The shifts in season and weather are dramatic. In an April photograph, the salt marsh looks naked. In others, the marsh is golden, lit with late afternoon shadows. The pool is edged with ice in one forbidding black-and-white photograph taken before a storm.
“I like cold, windy days,” says Moller. “You get this beautiful drama.” Often using a slow shutter speed, Moller achieves a painterly look. With this technique, “you can capture movement of snow blowing or grass moving,” she says. In one image, snow falls sideways and creates a soft, wintry haze in a harsh landscape.
Moller says that some people prefer the deep greens and placid reflections in her summer photographs to the winter scenes. She argues that “there’s an audacity of hope” running through the series, something that she sees “in the persistence of these forms.”
“I find the marshes deeply moving,” says Moller. In her photographs, the beauty and wonder of life are primary concerns. The pool becomes a silent witness to passing time. The activity around it — the swirling winds, the tides, the changing seasons — all impose on the pool, and yet it remains an unmoving presence in the landscape, reflecting the sky above.
Moller is now at work on a new project of views of the ocean from the back of her truck, which she outfitted with a bed before driving across the country. She connects the new project to the pools.
“Looking out at the expanse, you see this ineffable thing,” she says. “You could call it spirituality. It’s about trying to locate yourself in that bigger world.”
Pools: Mighty Plenitude
The event: Photographs by Jennifer Moller
The time: Through Friday, Sept. 2
The place: Wellfleet Public Library, 55 W. Main St.
The cost: Free