Chris Machemehl

Subconscious Landscapes: Rocky Schenck’s The Recurring Dream at The Wittliff Collections


The Wittliff Collections at Texas State currently contains Rocky Schenck’s The Recurring Dream. This collection is very large, made up of over one hundred images. He says his photographs are “found realities” or natural scenes that he captures within his lens and brings to life by self-tinting each with oil by hand. Schenck explores his own experience with recurring dream that haunted his childhood for years in this haunting collection of images.

My eyes were caught by a landscape on the back wall named Prosenium, it glows eerily. The otherworldly colors and soft haze suggest a connection with dreams and fantasy. This photo is taken from within the woods. The sky is a hazy greenish yellow and the almost-grey clouds, a blur. The scene is framed with gigantic old trees, overgrown with vines. A figure walks past one of the trees, looking away from me with hands in pockets. This ominous figure, dressed in dark neutral tones, seems ghostly and faceless. Tree trunks and leaves glow, contrasting with the dark shadow of forest behind. These haunting elements come together to make Prosenium a perfect representation of The Recurring Dream by transporting me into a dream world.

The Recurring Dream fills five large rooms, every image evenly spaced and similar in size. Vibrant emerald green trees sit atop dark backdrops, often with a golden sky peeking through the trees and vines. Some photographs contain aliens, ghosts, angels, and skeletons. The space itself suggests the feeling of being in a dream; each image has just enough clarity to feel real, but a soft haze, fading edges, and fantastical repetition emphasize the recurring nature of this subconscious exploration reminiscent of an almost-forgotten memory.

There was another photo that stood out among the rest, consisting of eleven identical red-headed young women in various green dresses, in varying sizes, all looking in different directions and existing in different planes. Her eleven forms do not obey any laws of physics or rules of perspective. The repetition of this character immediately affirms the feeling of being in a dream-like manufactured reality. Eleven transports me to a mystical blurred view of this red-head a dozen times at once. She appears as a physical representation of a subconscious that is lost, distraught, and contemplative at once in a dream world. The slight differences between her dresses—some lighter than others, some with ruffles, others with sequins—all bring me back to that almost-forgotten memory, a green dress that I can’t perfectly remember. The top half of the photograph is a smoky blue wall, with what appears to be either a fresco or faded reliefs depicting trees and people. This background’s blurred edges make it seem to mirror the lost red-head, possibly depicting the same person or same tree eleven times from eleven angles.

Eleven compliments Prosenium perfectly, both glow green and live in another realm. Together, these images reflect The Recurring Dream by transporting me into repetitive dream world haunted by Schenck’s subconscious.