There will have been

Grammatically, “future perfect” is the tense of “will have been.” It refers to events that are expected to happen if everything in the present continues to run its course. “Future perfect” is also an ungrammatical expression of a “perfect future,” and it’s between these two meanings that photographer and professor Judy Natal presents her own “Future Perfect” at Bridgeport’s Co-Prosperity Sphere.

The exhibition is structured as a narrative beginning in the year 2040. A bright-orange Jeep sits on a lifeless beach, goat carcasses lie in a crevice, and our toxic world is seen through the window of a futuristic rover. From there, the show moves backward in time, finally returning to 2010, where nearly colorless images of the future are replaced by scenes of green plants and smiling faces. It’s a surprising conclusion to an otherwise bleak series of photographs, and by ordering the images this way–moving from dreariness to happiness–the series leaves viewers with a powerful appreciation of the present, and a dose of pessimism about the future.

The creator of this dystopian vision is a bubbly, gregarious woman. An associate professor of photography at Columbia College, Natal is dedicated to art and education, particularly the role both fields can play in fostering ecological awareness. A section of “Future Perfect” is devoted to photographs she took of children’s planet and alien paintings, which were created in an “Imagining the Future” workshop held at the Biosphere 2 facility near Tucson. Natal has served as an artist-in-residence at the artificial ecosystem facility since 2008, and her experiences clearly inform the content of “Future Perfect.”

Among the most striking pieces of the exhibition are Natal’s “steam portraits,” which show people partially obscured on rocky landscapes. One image, dated as 2030, depicts a man walking his dog through a dense fog. In another, a scared woman clutches a teddy bear in the year 2020. Back in the present, a girl smiles and a couple shares a kiss. Other images juxtapose signs of humanity with nature: a cactus is padded and turned into a telephone pole, while an outdated computer sits in the middle of a greenhouse.

While Natal seems to juxtapose the man-made and the natural, she is adamant that there shouldn’t be a distinction between the two. To properly move forward, she proposes, we should be cognizant of our inextricable relationship with the earth.