One of the riveting photographs in a new exhibition of work by Dutch photographer Dirk Bakker looks like an agitated pool of mercury. But the photo, a high-contrast dazzle of black and silver, is simply water. “Water has no color, of course,” Bakker said. “It’s colored by circumstances of what it flows over, what’s above it, and what the light is like.”

Describing the mercury-like photo, he said it shows what happens when vertical water, like in a waterfall, ends its fall. “This is no more than eight inches of water, but it’s water that has just become horizontal and as such, has extreme turbulence and in a way, is entirely uncertain as to what direction to move into.”

Bakker served as the Detroit Institute of Arts’ director of photography from 1981 to 2010, when he moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He made the eight images in Reading H2O: The Grammar of Water at Peters Projects over five years and on various continents.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they are aerial photos or close-ups. “Part of their power comes out of the fact that they’re extremely small parts of moving water,” he said. “That’s part of the discovery process. One of my favorite things in life is beach walks, and looking at the water as a photographer. I never really got interested in the subject because it was too general and too generic.”

That changed the day he tripped over a small wave. “I started paying attention to the minutiae of how the surf, a big phenomenon, turns into the smallest phenomenon once it’s at the end of its moveable life, when it enters the beach.”

Once he began to make photographs, he had to sensitize himself to the way water behaves, and to the subtle rhythm of the surf. “What I learned after staring at it for a long time — and people thought something had happened to me because I was just standing on the beach without moving — I learned that you have to learn what happens before for that phenomenon to then happen next.”

Reading H2O opens at Peters Projects (1011 Paseo de Peralta) with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday, March 29. It runs through June 8. Call 505-954-5800 or visit petersprojects.com for more information. 

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