A family lounges on Lee Street Beach in Evanston in “Red Wagon,’’ Ted Glasoe’s photograph above. On the surface, it’s about as idyllic a modern scene as can be.

Paired with it is “Overflow v2,’’ Nelson Armour’s minimalist Lake Michigan shoreline scene. But shredding the scene is a dark flow of feces overlapping the original photo’s edge.

There’s layers in approaching Lake Michigan.

Aptly, there’s layers to “Surface Tension: Beauty and Fragility in Lake Michigan,” the photographic series by Armour and Glasoe. It runs through April 16 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago.

There are 11 pairs of artwork in this show.

On one level, it you love good art of Lake Michigan, the exhibit is for you.

Armour cites an interest in the late mountain climber/photographer Galen Rowell, who was able to take photos no one else could because of his climbing, and Art Wolfe, noted for his landscapes and wildlife.

“We want people to see it and say they didn’t realize Lake Michigan could look like that,” said Glasoe, whose pieces show his interest in the big blocks of color and layering of abstract painter Mark Rothko.

But Armour and Glasoe have aims beyond art, if I may write that without offending anyone. They are looking toward art as a way to fight for Lake Michigan.

“We want to get people thinking about things they won’t think about otherwise with the lake,’’ Armour said.

They do that by both capturing the beauty of the lake, and the problems below or around it.

Glasoe’s “Almost Sunrise’’ and Armour’s “Looming v2’’ are the big works to the left as you enter the hallway exhibit. But I will focus on “Red Wagon’’ and “Overflow v2.’’

Both take on the issue of sewage released in Lake Michigan. “Red Wagon’’ may look idyllic, but the family is lounging on the beach rather than swimming on the July day because swimming is prohibited due to high bacteria count.

A photgraphic construction on waste pollution, Nelson Armour's "Overflow v2". Credit: Nelson Armour

A photgraphic construction on waste pollution, Nelson Armour’s “Overflow v2”.
Credit: Nelson Armour

“Overflow v2’’ is not that subtle. Armour makes “constructions’’ of his original photographs, hence the “v2s.’’ In this case, he took the original photo, literally imposed feces on it, some of which flowed over the edge, and made “Overflow v2.’’

If that offends you, I suggest that you should be far more offended by crap flowing into Lake Michigan.

Anyone who has a history with Lake Michigan knows it appears much more pristine on the surface than it did even a couple decades ago. Some of that is the result of the Clean Water Act, notably under the authority of the now-embattled EPA. But some of that pristine comes via filter-feeding destruction by first zebra mussels and now quagga mussels.

Both men are activists by thought and deed. The approach of bighead and silver carp, Embridge Line 5 issues on the north end of the lake and microbeads (Armour has microbeads embedded in several pieces) are issues they are already working on.

Their goal is beyond one exhibit. They would like to take the show to galleries and museums around the Great Lakes. Exhibits are already scheduled for Art Nxt Level in Bridgeport, May 17-June 30, and Evanston Art Center July 7-30. Click here for the exhibit schedule.

In conjunction with the Notebaert, the “Photographic Workshop: The Art of Photographing Lake Michigan,’’ open to the public, is March 28, April 1 and April 5. The catalog, available at the Notebaert, is a wealth of environmental as well as art info.

For details on the show at the Notebaert, click here. The exhibit is included with admission.

Ted Glascoe and Nelson Armour with their signature photographs at their "Surface Tensions" exhibit on Lake Michigan at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Credit: Dale Bowman

Ted Glasoe and Nelson Armour with their signature photographs at their “Surface Tensions” exhibit on Lake Michigan at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Credit: Dale Bowman

CORRECTION NOTE:  An early edition of this had Ted Glasoe’s name misspelled. I regret the error.