I am excited to release my new series, Monuments, this week. I have worked on this project on and off for a couple of years alongside other ongoing projects, keeping it in mind whenever I traveled to locations that exhibited some of the elements I was exploring. The places that inspired this work (and are pictured here) were Venice Beach, The Salton Sea, and Newport Beach, all in California. Had my travels during that period been more extensive, I’m sure I would have enjoyed expanding my exploration to include other sights.
My inspiration came in observing various human-made objects, standing upright in contrast to the natural horizontal lines that dominate seascapes. Mankind has conquered and settled much of the Earth’s landscape and continues to do so. Despite our negative impact on Earth’s oceans, and the fact that we have been able to traverse the seas with relative success for a couple of thousand years, there’s no doubt that we adapt better to land than water. The sea remains somewhat elusive and mysterious.
With these thoughts in mind, I began to see these erect coastal objects as totems, symbols of humanity’s conquest up to the water’s edge. Although these “monuments” might tell the story of our Earthly domination, they also stand against us as reminders that we’ve come to a threshold of limitation. They seem to say “here, but no further” (I know that such “monuments” exist in the sea as well, but they’re much fewer in number—I think the metaphor still holds).
Early on I felt that it was necessary to make my exploration as unbiased and neutral as possible. There are plenty of photo essays out there already (and certainly more are needed) to address the serious threats we pose to our planet. However, it would have felt dishonest for me to come out strong against our footprint on coastal beaches when the reason I was photographing them was that I was vacationing there, enjoying them with my family and friends.
I was also coming out of a pretty intense season of life, still dealing with feelings of burnout and depression. I needed something a little more whimsical to occupy my thoughts. With the intensity of our political climate over the last four years, I needed something other than the usual media RED ALERT. It is exhausting to always be focusing on the things that are wrong with our country and the world.
Throughout this project, I did wrestle with themes of climate change and our impact on the health of our planet, but I did not want to contribute more to the narrative of an impending apocalypse. As National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones would say, “Focus on what’s right with the world.” I needed to focus on beauty.
With this freedom, I became amused by imaginary narratives such as the decayed remains of posts that once held volleyball nets being mistakenly interpreted by future civilizations as a device of torture. Or, a post that once held a sign saying “pick up after your dog” being interpreted as a marker of a sacred site. These photographs do depict such banal objects as having more importance and honor than they do in reality. Are we guilty of the same in the modern, material world?
I’m not trying to persuade anyone with these photographs. I’ve just enjoyed asking questions and wondering. I’m merely inviting the viewer to look with me. Each is free to draw his or her own conclusions. At the very least, I hope I have revealed some beauty in the process of wrestling with these metaphors and themes.
I was surprised to find myself, when first sitting down to create an artist statement for the portfolio, writing poetry instead of my usual descriptive short-essay. I’m no poet, but I trusted that impulse and followed it. I’m glad I did as it helped me to understand what I was doing visually. Using fewer words helped me lean into the romance of the pursuit of beauty, free from social-political commentary. One of my “poems” even took on a “monumental” physical shape of its own.
As always, thanks for looking with me.