“But I always found myself returning to the outside and always found myself wanting to see more and more space, to be able to orchestrate larger and larger volumes of space.”
– Frank Gohlke
For much of human history, we’ve relied on the five senses to understand our surroundings. But these evolved senses can’t give us a complete picture, especially when confronted with ideas beyond direct observation, such as globalization. For these situations, we’ve come to rely on abstract thought and technology. Using these two tools, we can begin to understand a world beyond ourselves, and even learn how our senses can mislead.
For example, based on direct observation the world seems flat, right? When philosophers and mathematicians first proposed the earth’s roundness, they were at odds with religious beliefs. But then astronomers noticed that this idea worked out very well with their calculations of planetary movements, and it started gathering momentum. Circumnavigating the globe provided a more direct proof. And finally, this could be observed most concretely through photographs of the earth from space. Yes, the world is round.
Such paradigm shifts are vital to understanding our complicated planet. These leaps in abstract thinking are often aided by new technological tools, and these technologies are becoming a more and more integral part of our daily lives. Yet reluctance to trust these abstract data persists, especially when the data are at odds with our sensory perception of the world. In the face of climate change and unprecedented globalization, we need to work to develop a deeper understanding of how technology can reveal hidden aspects of our planet. We need to learn how to “think globally.”
These images are playful attempts to integrate nature and nurture. I hope that they act as riddles to reconsider perceptions and preconceptions about the global landscape. I seek to simultaneously hold contradictory ideas about the world and consider the divide between what is directly observable and the limits of what we can measure and comprehend. Photography is a central technology in this, and rather than focus on the current perceived divide between digital and film, I consider the history of photography as a continuously morphing and dynamic medium.
To do so, I’ve identified five questions that I continually ask myself. These questions that have been vital to making these images as well as categorizing them into five interrelated chapters:
1.) Staring at the Sky and the Screen – The challenge of rendering 3D space onto 2D surfaces is a prehistoric one, as old as the petroglyphs that dot the earth. But today, we inhabit an image world more than ever before. How does this relationship to the screen and image alter how I think about and relate to physical space?
2.) Dreaming of Other Celestial Bodies – I’m obsessed with flight. I’ve loved birds for as long as I can remember and I still fly in my dreams most nights. To me, this desire indicative of human ambition and innovation. I know that chances are slim that I’ll ever fly in the way I do in my dreams… but what change is within my reach?
3.) Wondering What They're Looking at – Empathizing and understanding other points of view is crucial in today’s multicultural and politically polarized world. There are diverse cultural histories at play, as well as a rich natural history connecting us. How can human evolutionary biology inform my approach to image making?
4.) Breaking Branches and Bending Grids – New understandings the world often results in the destruction of old systems. I strive to intentionally break, stretch, and crack my expectation on how a camera works and how the world is put together… What remains after I’ve broken something I deeply believed in?
5.) Measuring Half-lives on the Horizon – Left and right. Right and wrong. These dichotomies persist across many cultures and are perhaps tied to our biology and our bilateral symmetry. More often than not, belief in binaries divides us and oversimplifies issues. Is there any way that I can reconcile perceived opposites?