In July 2016 I was en route to Alaska by way of Portland OR. It was there I received a phone call telling me the life changing news that my father had taken his own life. I returned to New York to attend his funeral. Two days later I was back on my way to Alaska. Shortly thereafter, I came to find my feet planted, although tenuously, upon a glacier. These massive rivers of ice typically inspire awe with their sheer magnitude, the profound influence on the earth both under and around them, the unfathomable volume of water locked within. In my fragile state, something else inspired me: time. These behemoths flow essentially as rivers do, but on a time scale beyond any simple human comprehension. Over the next several days, across and above many more glaciers, I stepped out of the present and let my mind succumb to geologic time. I found comfort in it’s endless cycles. My place in the modern world held only pain, but in the geologic world there was only deep time and slow rhythmic patterns.
Geologist Kenneth Deffeyes says in John McPhee’s Basin and Range, “If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever.” I wasn’t looking to live forever, but in a sense to live again. My descent into geologic time was the beginning of my resurrection. I went to the ancient world to find the peace I needed to rebuild my life in the present.
I spent the next year searching for places to observe and photograph unique geology, the cycles of sedimentation and erosion, glaciation and volcanism. Ancient Medicine is the result of these travels. In the series of photographs, the horizon is purposefully disregarded to give the feeling of immersion in the geology. Objects and landscapes of monumental size take on an ambiguous scale. I like to think of the process as akin to painting with time.
In another of his works In Suspect Terrain John McPhee states “…these dates are so unwieldy that they might as well be off a Manchu calendar unless you sense the pace of geologic change and draw an analogy between, say, a hundred million years of geology and one human century, with its upward-fining sequences, its laminations of events, its slow deteriorations and instant catastrophes. You see the rivers running east. Then you see mountains rise. Rivers run off them to the west. Mountains come up like waves. They crest, break, and spread themselves westward. When they are spent, there is an interval of time, and then again you see the rivers running eastward. You look over the shoulder of the painter and you see all that in the landscape. You see it if first you have seen it in the rock. The composition is almost infinitely less than the sum of its parts, the flickers and glimpses of a thousand million years.”
Ancient Medicine asks the viewer to consider these flickers and glimpses, to step out of the human timeline and into a geologic one, to try to imagine the slow tick of eons that have led to these compositions being possible, and to be soothed, as I was, by the notion that this has all been before and will be again, whether or not there is anyone here to witness it.