Review by Gerhard Clausing •
From time to time we wonder what life is all about. Special moments and places can intensify such musings, for instance, when we are looking at a wonder of nature, such as a giant gorge cut into a wild landscape – like a giant throat ready to consume us – from the high vantage point of an equally gigantic man-made structure. The puzzle can become quite complex.
Such was the case with artist Nat Ward when contemplating the Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, New Mexico, from the height of its impressive bridge. His wife was about to give birth at that time, and here they were hundreds of feet above ground – at an elevation that had caused others to end their life at that very same location. Surely that is a moment that makes you wonder about life itself, its beginnings, its challenges, and its cessation. A stark contrast can be found there: the terrain is full of twists and turns, elevations and depressions, water rushing along in the river, and some growth on the ground as well. The bridge is a stern construct as it confronts the natural world – steel and other materials that get their combined strength from straight lines and precision – all the constructed predictability that the rest of our lives are mostly not made of.
Luckily Nat Ward is not only a great observer of the external world, but is also skillful in combining his art with paying close attention to what goes on inside us. He lets the somber external world be seen in starkly contrasty black and white images against a context of internal reflection. The bridge is never shown directly, but casts its shadows on the natural shapes and scapes below. These shadows take on a life of their own: the lines of the bridge are straight at times, but mostly seen bent by natural terrain. The man-made structure is seen altered in its shadowy images cast on Mother Nature – we are reminded of the old battle between ‘monsters and madonnas,’ the contrast between technology and nature, once aptly depicted and described by William Mortensen. Those who are into Jungian interpretations will add further depths to this analysis.
Confronting our shadows is not easy, but can yield constructive ways to proceed out of the near-darkness depicted at the end of the book; the merging of nature and artifice can also give rise to some cautious optimism. The images are presented full-bleed, along with texts floating on black pages, thus heightening the overall effect. Abstraction and particulars go hand in hand in this journey.
Ward is also an excellent writer whose words, often quite poetic, speak from and to the hearts of many who are questioning how things are going. Thus they are a fitting complement to his imagery. His sentiments merge with his visuals, such as, “What do I leave and what do I leave behind” or “We are not very large people … we wanted to be temporarily bigger than we are.” Some quotes from the scriptures found on suicide helpline call boxes at the bridge are included, along with impressions of the pursuit of the ‘almighty’ but evasive dollar in nearby gambling joints, of camping experiences, and of the role of weapons in society, to name just some of the details involved in the considerations of this journey.
This photobook can have you spellbound as you get into it; it can serve as a very useful companion as you apply Nat Ward’s visual and verbal explorations to your own thoughts about the purpose of life in general, and your own life in particular.
Nat Ward – Big Throat
Photographer: Nat Ward (born in Philadelphia, PA; lives in Brooklyn, NY, USA)
Publisher: Kris Graves Projects, Queens, NYC, NY; © 2020
Texts: Nat Ward; select quotes
Illustrated soft cover; 64 pages, unpaginated, with 26 plates; 7 x 9 inches (17.5 x 23 cm); printed in the USA by brilliant:, Exton, PA; first edition limited to 300 copies
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