TELLURIDE – Can we “accept responsibility for making ice disappear?”
That question is posed by Professor Robin Bell, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, in her essay, “The Icy Veil,” that serves as an introduction of sorts to Caleb Cain Marcus’s new book of photographs, A Portrait of Ice.
While on a trip to Patagonia, the fine-art photographer, a San Miguel County native, found himself thinking about the role of the horizon. Crossing Lake Argentino in a boat that “swayed back and forth,” he writes, “I thought about the oppression created by the lack of a horizon in an urban environment, and what would happen if there was no visible horizon in the open space. What would happen if it vanished?”
Vanished, like the world’s glaciers vanish around us, at an alarming pace.
“Glaciers are living things,” Cain Marcus writes in his new book of photographs, A Portrait of Ice, with images depicting the glaciers of Patagonia, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand and Alaska. “Something in between a tree and a mountain,” and almost as old as time. “The earth’s ice has been ice for at least a million years,” he goes on to observe.
At the start, in Patagonia, of the two-year, five-nation glacier photography project that led to his book, and to the acquisition of three of the prints in the book to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cain Marcus writes, “The glacier looked smooth but close up was covered with bumpy shards, which were evidence of its crystal formation. Glaciers are formed from the falling snow. Thousands and thousands of snowflakes melt and recrystallize, becoming denser and denser, passing through a state of coarse white crystals, called firn, before becoming glacier ice. This transformation from snow to ice can take a hundred years.
“What if I photographed the glacier like the sea and the vertical city, without a horizon?” he wonders. He does just that, and “scale became undefined without the reference of a horizon. ….The features of the landscape would have to allow for the horizon to vanish through the viewpoint and positioning of the camera. Topographic maps, satellite imagery, snapshots and word of mouth helped to draw a sketch of the landscape. I was looking for glaciers whose song could be heard and brought back to the mainland.”
Glaciers as Metaphor
In another short essay in A Portrait of Ice, photographic image curator and critic Marvin Heiferman writes, “How curious that as glaciers around the world recede, so, too, does the materiality of the photographic medium in our increasingly digital age. As a result, it’s difficult to look at photographs from this project, even as we respect and marvel at all that seems to be so solid, and not feel a simultaneous sense of awe and nervous anticipation about a future we can barely imagine.
“It is the painterly quality of these stark images, as much as photographic ones, that makes the work seductive. The woozy atmospheric conditions that prevail look as if they are air-brushed or stippled in. Images of crenellated landscapes that evoke the surfaces of the brain or the moon, give the impression of being dusted with pigment, like pastels.”
Cain Marcus’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, High Museum of Art, Center for Creative Photography and George Eastman House and elsewhere; he currently lives and works in New York City.
As Cain Marcus writes at the end of his short essay in the book, “The Inuit elders say the melting of the ice is the land crying out in pain. Now we must listen.”
For the rest of Cain Marcus’s essay about the creation of his photographs in A Portrait of Ice, visit watchnewspapers.com. His book is for sale at Between the Covers, in Telluride; for more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.