Cracks are gentle reminders of our impermanence, of the steady drumbeat of entropy. We cling to the earth as if it were static, and act surprised when it is not. We all break under the alchemy of time, the pressures of life. Cracks are snowflakes, unique fingerprints of our modernization, and each tells a story if we only stop moving and look down. They’re so ubiquitous they’re invisible. But not to me.
A few years ago I survived a stroke. For a time I had sutures in my head that I’m reminded of when I see these sewn cracks, my skull rendered in rock. I have been photographing cracks since 1986, long before the stroke, long before I was introduced to the Buddhist ethos of “wabi-sabi,” the philosophy behind my exploration of fissures. This interest evolved through studies in fractals, planetary geology, and eventually to the Japanese artform “kintsugi”–where ceramics are broken and repaired with gold, highlighting the cracks and transforming the mundane into the precious. But this project was reborn when I made the connection between these aesthetics and the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam” literally translated: “to heal the world.” Tikkun Olam reminds us that the world is broken in myriad ways and it is our obligation to fix it. While suturing up the cracks is tikkun olam, it is also kintsugi. The world, even broken, is precious and worthy of reverence, maybe moreso. We heal the world not because the cracks are bad, they are the very essence of humanity; we heal the world because it is our job.
Still, my interest isn’t in a mixed media artwork of a sewn-up crack. My interest is in the process of sewing up the cracks. And as a photographer, a student of midcentury modernism and Uelsmann surrealism, I began to notice not only the enigmatic nature of what I was doing, but also the classical beauty I saw during the sewing process: the way the thread fell and twisted while I worked, the juxtaposition of the cracks and thread, the way the sun cast shadows. So I began to photograph my process, it is the process that is Tikkun Olam.
On another level these explore dynamics in photographic art and its representation. I don’t believe a photo of mixed media is itself a work of art. But a photo of the activity, of ephemeral moments of creation, instantaneously beautiful: that’s different. These speak to the very heart of the decisive moment.