Thursday, July 3, 2014

Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers

This collaboration uses Edweard Muybridge's Yosemite photographs as a starting point to engage with geography, ecology, and history, and also with art history.  "Yosemite" Solnit writes, "is a singular place into which are mapped myriad expectations and desires." The panoramas Klett and Wolf created bring many scattered historical moments into one visible present.

Below are passages by Solnit which resonate with our thoughts...

On the nature of collaboration: the nature of collaboration had to do with excepting uncertainty, with letting the process guide discovery....We had to establish the premise that we could accept personal vulnerabilities–-the right to be wrong, to have ideas that wouldn't work or weren't good, to speculate without the fear of feeling foolish. We had to agree to work in an environment of mutual support, mutual success, and to share the responsibility for failure....A collaboration is a boat steered by more than one party, so you don't know exactly where you're heading, or more profoundly it's a boat floating down the shared conversation so that it is, of its essence, improvisational.

On Yosemite--in the context of landscape photography: What places look like is not necessarily what they mean….There has often been a kind of cannibal ferocity in originality, a desire to a race one's parents or teachers, and attempt to shake off the past to reach the future. Rephotography is instead a way to move forward through the past. Yosemite is so far from being a wilderness that it's photographic history is now also it's landscape, and this double terrain is what [Solnit, Klett and Wolf] would explore....What is remarkable about this sort of image saturation in the 1860s and 1870s is that it makes Yosemite Valley into what postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard would describe as "a precession of simulacra": a phenomenon known by its images and representations more than (or rather than) firsthand experience….Yosemite was a realm of aesthetic glories but even more of codifications....The place is turning into it it's portrait, or into someone else's portrait, as though you were made up to resemble your great-grandmother.

Rivers of Time:  Borges spoke of "a growing, dizzying web of divergent, convergent, and parallel times….In most of these those times, we do not exist; in some, you exist but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in other still, we both do." After all, my collaborators added, Photography does not record continuums, but moments; it is not the camera but our imaginations that construct narratives out of these moments.

Klett and Wolf have worked on numerous projects rephotographing historical landscape images:
Rephotography is concerned with two moments in time, but the relationship is not always as simple as a single parent of original and re-photograph might suggest. Rephotography was developed as a technique by scientists, particularly geologists, to study changes in the landscape. The past and the present images of the same place reveal what has happened in the years between, and if the location is exact, the changes – erosion, accretion, a glacier moving or melting, a forest encroaching – can begin to be measured with some precision.... 
Rephotography is a significant research technique, unearthing information about the nature of a place, the passage of time, and the decision of artists available through no other means. It allows changed to be revealed in its particulars, which often contradict the generalizations...
Rephotography did what postmodernism did, and did it early on. It developed a practice that dispenses with the anxious pursuit of originality in favor of a playful but problematic relationship to the past and the ancestors.

The Future: Inspired by Deborah Harry, The Indigenous People's Council on Biocolonialism, whose "concern about what legacy we will leave to future generations is pragmatic, and it wrestles with science–not the science of observation that prevailed in Yosemite but the science of manipulation intervention. For the science of our time, corporation seem to have replaced religion in giving scientists reasons to reject information or interpreted according to certain premises, and some defenders of the safety of chemicals, drugs, genetic manipulations, and the nonexistence of global warming have a vested interest, though others argue sincerely."

In conclusion:
The most beautiful and wild places can raise questions most intensely, because we value these places not for being independent of us–-that Credo wore out-–but at least for making us only part of a larger order.…You can measure destruction but not glory. 

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