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Edited by Susan Bell, Ryan Spencer. Text by Mitch Epstein, Susan Bell.
In his newest series, Mitch Epstein investigates permanence and impermanence by photographing rocks that last millions of years and clouds that evaporate before our eyes. These large-format black-and-white pictures, taken in New York City, examine society’s complex relationship to nature, a theme Epstein has explored in previous work, such as his acclaimed tree pictures. “While laid up with a ruptured Achilles tendon, I wrestled with the passage of time, which suddenly felt palpable; read Robert Smithson; and reconsidered the inextricability of nature and human society,” Epstein notes. “All this led me to photograph rocks and clouds in the city.”
The way the sky and ground can mirror one another intrigued ancient Chinese painters, as well as Smithson and the Surrealists, all of whom inspired this project. Here, Epstein draws attention to the sculptural quality of New York City’s clouds, bedrock and architecture--which, at its most elemental, is made from rock. Cloud wedges engulf a cargo ship, buildings recall Constructivist paintings and boulders are imposing elders in the middle of a park or sidewalk. Rocks and Clouds suggests society’s inability to control time and tame nature. While it seems impossible to make a fresh picture of New York, Epstein gives us a surprising portrait of it.