Wednesday, July 22, 2009

atop the earth

The Lower East Side has become a gallery hub, and I was fortunate to tour them again (though not unfortunately this time the cool New Museum or ABC No Rio) with my local friend and host during my recent NYC visit. The best of the bunch was an exhibit at Anastasia Photo by Carlos Jiménez Cahua (see some of the photos here).

This latest urban revolution, about which more later, is a key subject for social scientists, and particularly those interested in sociopolitical change and ecology. These photographs speak to sociology while exploring our species’ relationship with the earth. Jiménez Cahua describes the series:

In places like the United States, when man assumes his archetypal role as builder, he acts as sculptor, taking the raw form, the earth, and shaping it to his needs, nearly unrecognizable in its final state. The earth is his clay and he the sculptor. For the people of Lima, their relationship with the earth is fundamentally different. They don't sculpt the land; the earth remains visible if not nearly unaltered despite their development. Whereas the people of developed nations affect the form and therefore identity of the land, the people of Lima quite literally merely scratch the surface—their relationship to the ground is not one of dominance, but of acquiescence. It is only in two dimensions that they can affect the land. They conform to the surface. Their relationship is comparatively inversed—it is the earth's will which is primary. In this way they do not sculpt, but can only paint the landscape, their presence forming just a translucent film atop the topography of the land.

But his description of his own work fails to recognize the art of the photos, considered in deep time. The contrast Jiménez Cahua draws here – of purposeful transformation vs. adaptation, power vs. impermanence – is in an important sense deceptive. It is the idea of an imposed human will, anywhere, that these beautiful images silently mock.

Each documentary photography exhibit at the gallery benefits a philanthropic organization, and in this case it’s one close to my heart: Partners in Health. For more, see:

No comments:

Post a Comment