On the Precipice of Something Great

I became interested in photographs of the Grand Canyon after I visited in 2019. I’d been several times before, but this time I felt something about the experience was incredibly sad. Standing in the group of tourists who had anticipated their visit, on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Although I took a few photographs with my phone, I found myself wondering why I would take the photos and what they mean. I also wondered if it was a mistake to go somewhere just to see a quick view, rather than to stay and understand a place. From the directed viewing platform it would be nearly impossible to take a photograph that didn’t look visually similar to the millions of other photographs. If I wanted to remember what it looked like, I could easily Google search the Grand Canyon and find many images indistinguishable from the one I would have taken. Or maybe there are differences that are more subtle in these photographs, that communicate an underlying connection to a particular temporal point. These questions prompted me to look through archives and amass a collection of Grand Canyon images and home movies. 

The resulting collection says more about the history and viewing frame of photography and human relationships to nature than it says about the Grand Canyon. The images are from the American national archive collections, from the U.S. War Department (now called the Department of Defense), from famous photographers like Ansel Adams, from amateur home movies, as well as a few of my own photographs. In the past, this natural wonder was encountered during extreme expeditions into unknown territories, and it was even more exciting and awe-inspiring to be alone and to be one of the first people to see or photograph the Grand Canyon. But in the age of fast transportation and digital image capturing where everything is increasingly accessible, what does it mean to take a photograph of the Grand Canyon? Is it a symbolic gesture, a piece of a collection, or a mechanism used to ensure a mental image is captured? Does an increasing number of photographs existing mean that the original photographs change in significance? The project visually explores the cultivation of the photographic gaze.


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