Deserts are special places. Rogue, quiet, beautiful and yet wild and fierce. Deserts create an unique blend of feelings. Feelings, that Michael Marschner perfectly captures while pursuing his deep passion for deserts and rogue spaces. Meet Michael and learn more about is passion for facing the essence of nature.
Photography is an attempt of visually expressing the feeling of being in a particular place. Everything we see and every sight we experience creates feelings that accompany the visual image and tactile sensation. My goal is to reproduce these feelings by capturing the essence of an experience in time. You can call this elusive goal an attempt to capture the essence, in an Aristotelian manner, or perhaps the Ding an sich in a Kantian manner.
Long time ago I gave up trying to figure out which of those two is more accurate. However, I still cling to the belief that every human experience that enters into our consciousness through our senses is fueled by something that is outside of ourselves.
It is that something that I wish to capture.
Face to Face with the Essence of Nature
The desert is the place where nature is stripped nearly bare. Sparseness, desolation, stunted plants and cold-blooded reptiles. Some would call this the essence of nature. What is a Joshua Tree? What is an Agave stalk? They are the triumph of life over the harsh reality between the burning sun, a lack of water, and the dry, rocky soil. That ceaseless, unyielding strength of life that becomes evident in the desert communicates something that is at the very center of nature.
Translating Feelings Through Raw Pictures
My mind is only able to focus on all the subtleties of such an experience when I am alone, so I enter deserts by myself. Once I’ve taken a picture of a mountain range, a sunset, or a plant, I remove every item limiting this picture. This means every detail that would allow to clearly identify the picture as an image of a particular thing, taken at a particular time or at a particular place. I strip down the image to the very essential version of itself. It shows light, shadows, rocks, trees, the sky – not a particular rock, or particular tree. My goal is to recreate the feeling of a scene by solely focusing on the essentials of it.
Many of these feelings can barely be turned into words. The feeling of standing on a dry desert plain, the feeling of the relentless wind blowing over every inch of my body and seeing the empty blue sky stretching away as far as I can see in every direction; these feelings can only partially be translated into words.
Photography is a way of transcending the limitations of language. It is a way of blending philosophy with art – two sides of the same coin – in a way that allows to share what my mind experiences with other people.
When Small Hills Become Mountains in the Desert
It is very tedious to wander in the desert. The terrain is challenging to navigate and extreme temperatures quickly create a feeling of discomfort. Often, I find myself wiping out sweat of my stinging eyes while trying to frame a picture. Even small hills become hard to climb.
The ground is covered in small, sharp and loose rocks and one wrong step can make you fall into a cactus. However, that feeling of standing on the top of a hill, or even mountain, is peerless. This feeling cannot be put into words. But, as any climber knows, this feeling makes every drop of sweat, every muscle ache, every ounce of exertion worth in a second.
A mountain in the desert is unique to itself.
An Particular Combination of Feelings
The desert is both everything and almost nothing. Standing on top of a naked pile of rocks, high above the brown baked earth of the boundless desert, creates a particular combination of feelings: I feel vulnerable, infinitesimally small and at the same time omnipotent and strong.
When I am the only conscious observer for miles, when I can see for a hundred miles in any direction, when everything I see is small, frail and bent, my minds feels free and invincible. In these moments, all of my senses have a unique degree of perception and sensibility. They have travelled and suffered with me all the way up and can now grasp and cease this infinite, beautiful width.
At the same time, I know that I will die if I remain for too long. I know that if I fall down and get injured – something that I have experienced several times – I could die if emergency fails to rescue me.
This combination of feelings is what creates my deep fascination for deserts.
A Transcendent Experience
I try to capture these moments and feelings in a visual form, because they represent a transcendent experience to myself.
When I leave the desert I often feel melancholic. I know that no matter how deep I go inside, how alone and lost I might feel or how much I struggle to climb a hill, it will always be there, indifferent and without mercy. Yet, its sparseness creates such a rich and raw version, that I touches my heart every time that I see it.
In my work I try to capture all of these aspects. Because even though it appears to be empty, it is really full of life.