Iceland’s mercurial geography inspires this series of photographs about the unease of a constantly shifting environment and the search for a stable vantage in a land being marked by seismic, meteorological, and human forces. Titled “Vertigo,” the work reflects a queasy uncertainly about the future and the past, brought-on by my entry into middle age. European Romanticism’s emphasis on a personal and emotional resonance with nature influences my artistic approach, my view of landscape as a mirror of the soul and a potential source of wisdom.
On this island in the North Atlantic, the rapid flux in the land and weather, the midnight sun and the polar night, can provoke a feeling of disorientation. East seems to lie to the north, and puddles collect in the firmament. The marks of human habitation are pervasive, and at the same time little more than a mirage, on the verge of disappearing. Change in light, weather, season, the actions of beast and man, or tectonic cataclysm, past and future upheaval waits within the stability and stillness of each photograph.
Nonetheless, disorientation can lead to transformation. Human and nature, creation and destruction, sun and rain, anxiety becomes revelation as duality gives way to a more fluid and protean understanding of the cosmos. In the Norse creation myth, the blood, skin, muscles, hair and brains of the murdered giant Ymir form the oceans, clouds, plants and soil of the earth. Destiny is cyclical, not finite, and in the next cycle perhaps our brains will create clouds.
I am a photographer, book artist, publisher and pilgrim. My work interweaves knowledge from the visual arts, the narrative arts, anthropology, history, and religious studies. From the root of concrete, lived experience sprouts a narrative about passage and transcendence that touches and re-kindles the human spirit with a straightforward style that does not shy away from the dirt, humor, or marvelous enchantment of an imperfect reality.
In the course of my career, I have lived for ten months in one of the manuscripts libraries of Timbuktu, and walked three of the world’s most important pilgrimages—in Spain, France, and Japan—travelling over 2500 kilometers by foot. I spent my childhood in Washington DC, Mali, and Sierra Leone, an international upbringing that significantly influences my work. Each photographic project begins with a journey of exploration: among the majlis of Timbuktu’s Islamic scholars, along the Shikoku pilgrimage trail, or in the mercurial landscape of Iceland. Their multifaceted character gives depth to my stories as well as relevance towards renewing our understanding of contemporary faith and culture.
I am a co-founder of the Kyoudai Press, with which I have published “Lost Things,” “333 Saints,” and “East or West.” I hold a BA in studio art and East Asian studies from Stanford University and an MS in journalism from Columbia University. Notably, photographs from “333 Saints” were part of the landmark exhibition “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” at the British Library (2015). Among other honors, I have received a Fulbright Research Grant, and my prints have been acquired by the US Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, and the British Library.