I thought I’d check in at the halfway point of our trip. First of all, greetings! I wish I could snap my fingers and you would all appear here with us.
In terms of my photographic work so far, my primary feeling is one of anxious urgency. What I am seeing through my viewfinder is amazing—everything I had hoped for, and much more. The albatross carcasses are astonishingly beautiful and visually complex, each one offering a slightly different view into the intricate architecture of these magnificent creatures. The pieces of plastic in their body cavities—cigarette lighters, bottle caps, pens, toothbrushes, and lots of other brightly colored plastic chunks, juxtapose like colors in a painting against the rich palettes of neutral tones in the birds’ decaying feathers and bones. Aesthetically, I hope that the images I am capturing will carry the same kind of uncomfortable desolate beauty that my other work has explored.
The part that makes me anxious is that I have no idea what is actually being recorded on my memory cards. I feel clumsy working with my new digital camera system. My hands lack fluency with the knobs and buttons; the menus don’t come naturally to my thought process; and I don’t know if I am getting the fine focus and the exposures correct. What I do know is that this equipment will produce outrageously high quality images if I get the settings right. Fingers crossed!
A couple of days ago I discovered a huge pile of several thousand albatross carcasses sequestered in a remote meadow. We figured they must be all the birds that had died around the living quarters, moved to a place where they can decompose naturally, away from the island village. The pile is a couple of feet deep and about twenty feet square, with thousands upon thousands of wings, skulls, rib cages, feathers, and bones, all mixed and permeated with a shocking amount of plastic junk.
It is a horrific and moving sight, evocative of images of mass graves from wars, more visually intense than anything I had expected to find here. I devoted a whole day to photographing the pile, and plan to return several times more. In terms of experiencing the depth of the tragedy we came here to witness, this is the heart of darkness of our journey. I feel overwhelmed and numbed by it, and I also sense that if there is any kind of breakthrough in our process to be attained on this trip, this pile represents the portal through which we must pass.
This Monday, September 21st, marks the autumnal equinox, a middle place in our yearly circuit around the sun, halfway between the days of longest darkness and longest light. On that day, at noon Midway time (four hours earlier than Pacific time), our team will return to the pile. Our shared intention is to connect as deeply as we can with the profound story that these birds have to tell. Please remember us on that day, and hold our process in your thoughts, as we will hold you in ours.