with Paul Nicklen
Paul Nicklen Photographs the Colorado River as It Etches Itself Like Veiny Branches into the Landscape
It is a common understanding in writing studies that to recount a disastrous event in literal and graphic detail may damper the purpose of the story by pushing the reader away. In order to elicit experiential feelings, writers often learn to employ tools and strategies such as metaphor, poeticism, and structure. This could also be understood as an exercise in empathy because rather than force the reader to feel by summarizing the experience for them, the writer creates an environment where one can reach for closeness and camaraderie in their own ways.
Paul Nicklen, pioneering conservation photographer (previously), calls nature “the first and greatest artist” in his latest collection, the Delta Series. To expand Nicklen’s statement across disciplines, nature may also be the first and greatest writer. In the series, he captures the vestiges of the Colorado River that trickle, roar, and finally, crawl their way down to Baja, Mexico. Though the silt itself is the site of tragedy, traces of freshwater gorgeously spread like branches, or fingerprints, or lungs, or as Nicklen writes, like veins.
These lines not only tell the story of the “megadrought,” a term scientists use to describe the impact of the climate crisis since the year 2000 on an already dry West—as of June, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have agreed to release water from irrigation canals and restore the ecosystem in Baja—but they also craft the effects of reduced snowpack, thirstier soil, and higher temperatures into a grand metaphor for the interconnectedness of life. Even in the midst of ruin, nature speaks in symbols. With its last breath, the river reaches for its kin: the ocean. Unable to meet that immense body, the water carves its final words into the landscape. The familiar shape of its sprawl reminds us that we are inseparable, intimately woven into each other, and share responsibility for every living thing around us until the very end.
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Spanning the icy downpours of the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard to the intimate portraits of the people of Papua New Guinea, the profound photographs that comprise an exhibition at Hilton Asmus Contemporary in Chicago are a perceptive consideration of the issues at the center of today’s conservation efforts. Titled Origins, the show brings together the work of artists and marine biologists Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen, who pair their creative practices with their work at the nonprofit Sea Legacy.
Co-founded by the duo in 2014, the organization is dedicated to preserving the oceans, using “their inspiring imagery to convert apathy into action and to drive powerful conservation wins across the globe,” a statement reads. A testament to the landscapes and ecologies worth preserving, the stunning photos document global crises and the tender, joyful moments of people around the world, and their subjects range from a Lisu woman in China’s Yunnan Province carrying her pet duck to the crumbling icebergs of Antarctica.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.