There is an inherent irony in the title Instant Traveler. The notion of travel, traditionally understood as 'the taking of an extensive journey,' is modernized and repackaged as a consumable. As with any modern consumer product, travel must now be instantaneously convenient. The experiential nature of travel is transformed into an illusion.
‘Nature is still elsewhere … always a referred existence, an absence, never a presence and satisfaction’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Nature.’ It is this deferral of experience that is crystallized in the National Park experience. Nature seems always beyond our reach in these parks. My experience at Niagara Falls seemed to bear this out. As I stood in the company of fellow tourists -- securely protected by guardrails and warning signs -- the scenery in front of me kept evading my grasp. The close-up and first-hand experience promised by the Maid of the Mist excursion boat at Niagara Falls never really materialized. Before boarding, we ‘travelers’ were offered cheap plastic ponchos to keep us from becoming wet. And the five minutes of ‘exploring the roar’ (as the advertisement said) only rendered nature totally invisible.
In a way, the ‘management’ of the National Parks signals sophisticated engineering, and illuminates another irony. One travels away from civilization in order to be immersed in ’pure’ nature only to discover oneself an alternative civilized institution. Yet despite the cynicism implied in the study of modern travel, the genuine desire for close bodily contact with nature cannot be ignored. No matter how illusory the National Park experience may be, one stands at the peak of a mountain yearning to be profoundly moved.
The images in this series are monuments to this individual desire and as the word monument implies, the images are ’atemporal’ depictions of each event. My shooting process would often last several hours, yielding dozens of large-format negatives of the same location. These negative were then digitally reorganized to generate a collective experience. Within the image, the presence of an individual marks the absence of another, and vice versa, continually deferring to be fixed in history.
Currently, I am working to expand the Instant Traveler project by focusing on two other aspects, which have grown out of the original concept of ‘nature-institution.’ For the past three years, I have been living in the central valley of Northern California and this has afforded opportunities to observe a variety of human activities within natural environments. Many of these activities take place in less-regulated (or private) lands and seem to be a more direct expression of our desire to commune with nature. These activities are governed by sophisticated rules and equipment and produce a hierarchy of experts and novices. Many of these go much further back in history than the National Park Service. I intend to study and catalog these activities.
Moreover, I have developed an interest in the physical manifestations of this concept ‘nature-institution’ as evidenced in architectural spaces and the objects occupied within them. These spaces range from park visitor centers to nature laboratories, and often provide rich visual metaphors for an ever more modern creation of ‘nature-institution.’ In a way, these manifestations are not so different from the blue ponchos of the Maid of the Mist; i.e. thin layers of protection ironically devised to make us experience a body of water while keeping dry.