I don’t feel very well at the moment. Last week was a mad dash through San Francisco and Denver, by way of Albuquerque. Planes, trains and automobiles indeed. I caught a nasty cold at a children’s Church carnival in Denver, so I’m surly as well as exhausted.
Ironically, my mental state has actually impacted plans for an upcoming project. Still secret of course, but let’s just say that my ambitions for a huge chunk of travel have withered. I may not be old, technically, but I’m old enough to know that my body and mind have limitations. My schedule will change to suit reality.
Tired though I may be, I’m also thankful. Travel is the great educator. We learn more about our own lives and cultures when faced with others. Not the most brilliant thought I’ve put forth here, I admit, but true nonetheless. We push out to know more about where we rest our heads each evening.
Sometimes, though, to get to the core of a story, one must stretch personal boundaries. Occasionally, an artist has to travel to the literal ends of the Earth to scratch obsession’s itch. Can’t say it’s happened to me yet, but we know the results when we see them.
This week’s book is a perfect example. “A Portrait of Ice,” by Caleb Cain Marcus, was recently published by Damiani. It’s an oversized soft cover book, with a delicacy that matches well with its subject matter: the Earth’s rapidly disappearing glaciers. (Insert random environmental statistic here.)
Mr. Marcus must have learned to love the neck pillow, and probably racked up a ridiculous credit card bill, in order to bring back these photographs. He visited Alaska, New Zealand, Iceland, Patagonia, and probably some other places I’ve neglected to mention. The resulting photographs make up the bulk of the volume.
This book goes against the rhythms I’ve extolled lately, in that there is not much of a narrative build-up. Good essays, some more nice writing, and then the plates. The production quality might make up for a lack of editorial lyricism, but, really, this book impresses because of the photographs themselves.
The pictures are uncomfortable artifacts of the 21st Century. They’re razor sharp, with a ridiculous pixel count, and are slightly over-saturated in the manner that marks the hyper-real. It’s possible that Mr. Marcus used something other than a medium format digital camera, but I doubt it. (And if so, he managed to ape the digi-aesthetic in a fantastic way.)
A sense of scale disappears, and you can’t really tell if you’re looking at actual glaciers, or well-made models in a studio. The awkward beauty mystifies a bit, as confusion and appreciation commingle. I think it’s a very smart way to approach a subject that is both topical and ahistorical. Big mountains of ice rendered by big mountains of data.
These images function as documents of objects that may well cease to exist. But rather than tug on our heart strings, like that crying-Native-American-litter commercial from the 70’s, this project pushes us away as it draws us in. And it also deigns to make the large look small, which is a great metaphor for a compressed world in an Internet age.
Bottom Line: Fascinating, topical photographs of Glaciers
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