earth.air.fire.water

earth.air.fire.water is a four part photographic series that juxtaposes archaic western mythology with a modern antiseptic presentation. The four elements are isolated, and presented in idealized Zen Enso circles, bolted into brushed stainless steel laser-cut frames, backlit with dual fluorescent bulbs.

This project is intended as a monument to the very ancient idea that all things are constructed of the same fundamental elements.

We now know this to be absolutely true. Over one hundred elements have been found to exist so far, and we are constantly creating new (if short lived) elements in particle accelerators.

The slideshow page for earth.air.fire.water can be seen here

The concept of the four original elements lives on in psychology, astrology, and many different religions. The current periodic table has become the cornerstone of modern scientific thought and discovery. The four elements, and the alchemists that sought to understand them, can be seen as precursors to the scientific pioneers that came after them. This work is meant to unify the concept of those ancient proto-scientists with their modern successors, and honor their courage and curiosity, to celebrate the birth of the thought process that shaped the western world.

The individual pieces are digital photographs, about two feet in diameter, printed on archival translucent media, that have been bolted into stainless steel frames, with chrome acorn nuts. The frames components have been laser cut from stainless steel plate, and laid out on a three axis (three states of matter) geometrical design, with a transparent lucite disk in the center. Installed behind the frames are two concentric fluorescent ring-bulbs, to illuminate the photos, and shoot light sideways out of the fixture. The effect is pleasing and functional, as art and as mood lighting.

Earth: a cold and dry element, it is associated with practicality, restraint, and materialism.

For earth, I went hiking through Pinnacles National Park, racing the sun, to get the right lighting on different rock faces. It was a challenge to find rock formations that would lend themselves to being digitally stitched together, without straining the natural play between light and shadow.

Air: the most transient of the four elements, associated with an animating spirit within all life.

Air was a lot more straightforward. I carried a camera with me at all times, and whenever I saw a cloud formation doing the right thing, I would shoot the crap out of it. It took quite a long time, but eventually it all came together.

Fire: a powerful change agent, capable of creation or great destruction, is associated with energy, assertiveness, and passion.

Fire was the most dangerous part of the project. I modified a large forced-air burner designed for foundry processes, and hotwired the air control on the blower. I would run the burner on zero air for a few seconds, allowing excess gas to build up, and then kick the blower on full blast. The results were spectacular, and somewhat unpredictable, with twelve-foot-high flames shooting up into the night. I can’t say my eyebrows emerged unscathed. The final image, however, was well worth the effort. It was loads of fun to dig down into the little digital nooks and crannies of individual frozen flames, as the image composition came together.

Water: as it flows throughout all forms, it shows its adaptability and is often associated with the qualities of emotion and intuition.

Water was a tougher technical challenge. I ended up having to custom-build a water fountain that could focus a stream into a flattened laminar flow, and running blue-dyed backlit water through it, shooting against a white backdrop. Once all the waterworks were built, It was a simple matter of spending a few minutes collecting more footage than I would ever need. The layering of different elements was more painstaking with this piece, because the visual margin of error was pretty tight.

In bringing these very ancient ideas into a very modern and technical aesthetic presentation, I am hoping to connect through allegory two very different schools of thought, that I believe share many of the same values. Although there will always be a rift between scientific types and the astrology/palm-reading/zodiac/wicca crowd, I see a common thread that unites the two groups. There is an innate desire within humans to explain what we see around us, to explore what mystifies us.

Throughout history, various explanations of the natural world have risen and fallen, with the newer always seeking to discredit and abolish the old. The older and often cherished beliefs are usually pried violently from the realm of accepted thought. In most cases, this is a tragedy, not because ancient ideas are interchangeable with modern scientific thought, but because these venerated systems of belief serve to tell us as much about our journey through the cosmos as any archaeologist of particle physicist ever could. The spirit behind these many schools of thought is the same, to seek out explanations for the natural world that inform our sense of belonging and purpose. This piece is intended to honor what I believe is the highest human attribute: curiosity.

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