The Meaning of (Be)Longing

It is difficult for me to express in words what I see in those landscapes. I am certain that there are several interconnected layers in my seeing, to which I react emotionally. In its first expressive layer, (Be)Longing lets me show beauty and serenity of places that are rather forbidding to a man. I am curious about the magnetic attraction of a desert in which one step too far under the Delicate Arch is a step towards death. Why do the slot canyons of the Navajo land fascinate with their painterly, unique beauty, while standing in them in a heavier rain leads to a tragedy? The difficulty of living in many of the places that I have been recording is as sheer as our souls’ yearning to belong to them. The further I am from the arid Mojave the more I long for it. Circumstances caused those forces to remain separate. My photographs let me, and I hope the viewers, experience the exaltation of a moment when those feelings join each other in an image.

My fascination with the primeval artistic aspect of geology forms the second expressive layer in this series. Landscape of the Colorado Plateau, which spans Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California, has been shaped by an interesting geological coincidence based on a triple emergence and disappearance of a large inland sea. This phenomenon had been reflected in a triplication of elements of creation of mountainous and desert landscapes. Hence, looking at the majesty of the Grand Canyon one can see three similar, but not identical layers consisting of a further three layers: limestone, sandstone, and red shale — nine visual notes in three grand bars. In a similar manner, through a tireless repeating, erasing, and again repeating of erosion nature has made those unusual slot canyon walls such as in Canyon X. It seems to me that this geological aspect of the landscape interests me the most as it contains a note of aesthetics that has influenced art, architecture, and culture. Whilst this would be an oversimplification, Grand Canyon could be related to Cubism, Yosemite relates to the paintings of early Romanticism, Canyon X reminds of Kandinsky, and one can hear Johann Strauss II in the Delicate Arch. These are my feelings, which I photograph and record as another expressive layer in my works.

I hope that my photographs would not only bring famous natural objects closer to viewers but also arouse a curiosity about their impact on the artistic creativity of our civilization. I am interested in the question of the primal originality of the objects I have been showing and their fundamental role in art and culture. Is all man-made art derivative in its nature? How false, perhaps, is our feeling of complete originality? Of course, I ask myself those questions being fully aware of the technically reproductive nature of photography. Could such a reproduction ever be original? Could any painter or a composer be truly original or do they also reproduce something that had existed before? Thinking about those questions helps me reconcile the influence American twentieth century photographers have had on me. I hope, however, that my viewers would appreciate a difference — one that is dear to me — between the illustrative and pictorial form of expression of the photographs of those times and the more abstract approach demanded by the culture of the early twenty-first century.

I would not wish to impose a particular interpretation of my photographs. I hope that the viewer can return to them more than once giving them time to show their depth.

Karolina Vyšata interviewed me in October 2010 for a photo book that accompanies the (Be)Longing exhibition, which she has curated. This was her original question, which I have answered above:

The (Be)Longing series comprises fragments of a particular landscape. How do you perceive the nature that you photograph? Are you fascinated only by the aesthetics of the landscape and its wilderness or do you also study it from a natural science perspective? What do you wish to convey through your photographs?

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