Caleb Cain Marcus’s Visions of the River Ganges Bring Wonder Back to Photography
The Colorado-bred, New York-based artist Caleb Cain Marcus lays out his theory of photography in the introduction to his new book, Goddess (2015). “The Camera,” Marcus writes, “is not designed to elicit a neutral or impartial translation of reality as we see it, but instead a favorable and predictable representation,” based on what’s pleasing to the eye. Marcus makes clear his desire to move against rationalism and reintroduce wonder into our perception of photography.
For Goddess, Marcus—renowned for his large-scale images of sublime natural beauty—spent 44 days following the Ganges river through India and Bangladesh, traveling the waterway’s 1,500 miles. The resulting images are expansive, mysterious tableaus cloaked in fog. They capture the migration of groups across the river’s banks from a bird’s-eye view; haunting man-made structures half-consumed by water; and long, meditative pans of muddy landscapes affected by the tires of local industry. As the critic Richard Ford has noted, the sociopolitical and religious presence of the Ganges—an important source of agricultural stability and local lore—is a constant presence, even if it isn’t physically visible in these epic landscapes. In Marcus’s collection, as in life, the river’s effect on the countries it snakes through is omnipresent. As the artist notes, the Ganges is often personified as “Ganga,” a goddess who acts as a pathway to heaven; its water is believed to stave away sickness and, if placed between a dead relative’s lips, free them from a cycle of rebirth.
The images in Goddess, which are also on view at Clic Gallery, are composed as to reveal, in the words of the photographer, the “tangible quality of space,” the sheer expansiveness of these landscapes. It’s a theme that Marcus has been developing for some time, and his talent for dealing with issues of natural scale is widely regarded. Recently, he spent two years traveling through Iceland, Alaska, New Zealand, and Norway photographing glaciers. He hopes these bodies of work “offer glimpses of these ephemeral moments when space can be felt and seen in landscapes.”
“Goddess” is on view at Clic Gallery, New York, Oct. 21–31, 2015.
Book signing: Wednesday, Oct. 21, 6–8pm, at Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, New York.