Posts Tagged ‘Trails’

Last week I managed to hike up to Salem to finally see the Peabody Essex Museum, a visit long overdue.  The museum holds an interesting position; it has a large and internationally known and renowned collection, but is situated well outside of a major city, making access to all but locals difficult.  This prohibits many casual visits, and thus prevents it from receiving the same attention or foot traffic that a museum would in Boston proper or Cambridge. Despite the distance though, the newest photography exhibition, Imprints: Photographs by Mark Ruwedel, was worth the trek.

The images stem from a central conceit in photography, the passage of time.  In Ruwedel’s case, he’s captured everything from fossilized dinosaur tracks to ancient desert footpaths worn down over millennia.  The result are subtly rich and dense images that force the viewer to truly look, study, and meditate on the images, reflecting on the camera’s ability to capture a moment in time, the tracks living beings have made over time, and the time spent meditating over these occurrences.

“Klondike Bluffs #15” from 1999 is one of his many depictions of dinosaur tracks, never before displayed.  The tracks are in the foreground, moving steadily into the near distance where they disappear.  Despite the desolate land, the image holds far more than the tracks; it becomes the land upon which the tracks are written. Between the bare rocks and tufts of grass, the bareness couples with an overwhelming sense of desiccation, making the land itself feel ancient.  It seems old in a way that is difficult to fully fathom, like the passage of time in this place is so endless it is impossible to put it into perspective. In some ways this timelessness functions as a reminder that while the dinosaurs have come and gone the land was born before and remains still.  This is heightened by the exemplary printing job (which Ruwedel performed himself for all the works) that managed to keep the faint hills in the far background present; this gives scope to the earth, integrating the depicted eternity in time with an endlessness in space.

Another great example of Ruwedel’s work in this exhibition is “Chocolate Mountain/A Ceremonial Footpath on an Ancient Terrace” from 2004 which demonstrates a certain wry humor.  On the surface, this image is much like the one discussed above; there is a strong physical indicator of the passage of time, a trail that has been used over and over again for so long that it has permanently imprinted itself upon the land.  The Chocolate Mountains, like the Klondike Bluffs, are both ancient and harshly imposing structures vastly tall yet receiving less than four to six inches of rain per year.  Nevertheless, highly noticeable on top of this well-travelled road is a far younger mountain bike path.  Mixed in with the surrounding austerity of the work and the rest of the collection, it’s a bit funny. There is also something reassuring about this more modern presence though.  It seems to speak to some sort of collective humanity, a reason to go up and then down the mountain in some particular fashion; a new on top of an old on top of an ancient.  All paths are subsequently retraced by the photographer himself, adding his own tracks both on the land and through these photographs. At the end of the day, the contemplative viewer walks away feeling that while the intents may have varied, this path represents a journey that has been made again and again, and that in viewing the work they, too, are also partaking.


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