Lions and tigers, white wine, oh my. Happy New Year everyone! There is a fire blazing, but no snow in Carversville. My journal is devoted once again to magical, faraway lands … and experiences that I lust after.
If you haven’t seen the photographs of Gregory Colbert’s, Ashes and Snow exhibit, prepare yourself for an profoundly spiritual experience.
You can thank the Scottsman for our journey into Gregory Colbert’s exploration of the shared language and poetic sensibilities of animals, and their relationships with humans. It’s Colbert’s premise that humans lived previously in much greater harmony with animals.
Several years later into the exhibit, understanding that certain shots took long months of coaxing and coexisting, it’s generally agreed that Colbert’s photos are genuine, impossible as they are to comprehend.
But I am rushing, wanting to drag you into the mind of Gregory Colbert before we are ready. As I said, you can blame the Scotsman.
I’m not a jealous person, but I was green with envy, when the high and mighty Scottman sent a digital kiss last week, from the Stellenbosch vineyards in South Africa.
He knows I enjoy crisp Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa or the Marlborough district in New Zealand. It wasn’t enough that my friend was drinking my favorite wine on location.
The Scot next taunted me with his pending departure for a friend’s cottage in the Kruger National Park and big game refuge. Hearing his booming, deep and beckoning voice through 4000 miles of cyberspace, I covered my ears, crying out in Yahoo mail “It’s not fair. You have all the fun.”
Imagine retreating to a little house in the South African bush, surrounded by lions, cheetahs, rhinos, springbok and zebras! In Carversville, I only have fireflies, hawks and Cody, our wonderful, old, irreplaceable dog.
Flying for Free
Resisting every temptation to book an immediate flight to Capetown, I found the good manners to wish him a bon voyage. Hanging up the phone, I could not contain myself. Reflecting on my friend’s pending visit to animal paradise, my own mind took flight.
Within seconds, my mind soared to a new destination, lodged in my heart and memory. Temporarily forgetting my passionate, relentless desire to visit an African game reserve, I escaped into Gregory Colbert’s extraordinary sensual vision of life.
I wept then, and I weep now in my cyberspace return to photographer Colbert’s Ashes and Snow exhibit, the most profound museum experience of my life.
Seeing the Mona Lisa in all her glory at the Louvre was nothing compared to entering the Ashes and Snow exhibit, now making its way around the world.
Gregory Colbert’s artwork explores the poetic sensibilities of animals and humans together in nature. Humans are seen as a member of the family of animals, and not its opposite. Colbert devotes endless days, sometimes years, introducing humans into animal habitats, coaxing and nurturing intimacy and trust, until an extraordinary moment of sensual intimacy occurs, one captured by his camera lens.
Traveling the world as the Nomadic Museum, Ashes and Snow will open next month in Mexico City. This environmentally interesting structure debuted in New York in March 2005, traveled next to Santa Monica in January 2006 and Tokyo in March 2007.
Designed by Shigeru Ban the stacked shipping containers, the 30’ high cardboard columns, and the exquisite lighting of the space and the art all come together to create a cathedral-like space and striking experience.
Entering the exhibit, the visitor is lead over a wooden deck in the center of the structure, while the walls and ceiling are dipped into darkness due to the careful lighting design.
The prints appear to hover between the evenly spaced columns, which makes for a beautiful procession.
Moved and Unmoved
Viewing the show alone on my first visit, I was overcome in a powerful, near-religious experience. My second visit to “Ashes and Snow” was with a man I adored, who lacked any real response to the photos.
His dismissal of the experience left me thunderstruck. I was so enraptured with him, that I failed to see his reaction to the show as a signal of his greater character flaws.
“Ashes and Snow” is a moody exhibit. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time looking at airbrushed photos of fashion models, but I was attracted to the exoticism of the photographs and not repelled by their “artificiality”.
In a part of the world ravaged by violence, the beauty is calming and poetic, almost redemptive.
Colbert asks us to imagine what can be, offering another view of man, now in an emotional relationship with nature, not an irreverent, irrational one. For Colbert, nature is the teacher, not the force to be overcome.
Much of the criticism of Colbert’s photography is lodged against the blatant artificiality of the poses. Humans and animals work with endless patience to achieve these shots. They don’t come naturally, at least in 2008.
Indeed, the savage side of nature is absent in these photos. But I can easily see the butchery on National Geographic. Let me imagine a different world, one where we are in touch with the sensuality, sensitivity and yes — even the unconscious ‘thought waves’ of these creatures.
Western man has reduced animals to pure instinct, when in fact they may be more complex, prudent hunters than we are.
Blogger Amardeep Singh writes: ” … people don’t just hang out with Cheetahs on stark desert plains. And they don’t swim with elephants with their eyes closed, looking enraptured.”
True, Amardeep, but Colbert did NOT digitally adapt these photos, an early criticism from those who insisted that these magnificent photos could not possibly exist in reality.
Wisdom in this Kingdom
You can call it a circus, but Colbert is not using trained elephants. I’m intrigued with the criticism that in a contemporary world of despicable horrors, the beauty of Colbert’s photos is critiqued as inauthentic, an artificial, Photoshop only possibility. How sad.
These breathtakingly exquisite scenes offer solace and another view of life, in a Christmas week ravaged by yet more killing, this time the execution in Pakistan of Benazir Bhutto.
Her murder was carried out by the planet’s most advanced species of animals, homo sapiens. I use the term advanced loosely, and I wish elephants could talk and that man would listen.
Returning to “Ashes and Snow”, Singh commentator Anne-Marie writes: “Personally, I found it to be the most beautiful exhibit I had ever seen. It is undoubtedly one of a kind, and the beginning of many more, I am sure.
The photographer, in my eyes, truly captures the spirit and essence of the animals and humans like no other. There is a connection, a oneness, that no one has managed to convey as well as he has. His images are profound and deeply moving, touching, at a soul level.”
Through my journal, I try to speak softly about the importance of igniting a life vision: seeing it, smelling it, feeling, hearing, and tasting it. Living sensually inspires our creativity and softens our souls.
If reality only exists in destruction and savageness, then we humans have completely lost our roadmap.
I’m not a trust fund kid and my life has not been a bowl of cherries. I am just one person, who refuses to let go.
May you all find your own la dolce vita in 2008. As Sarah Ferguson says: Make life your friend.