22 brief movement caleb cain marcus

The DART Interview: Caleb Cain Marcus

August 3, 2019 - Peggy Rolf

In describing the world, Caleb Cain Marcus dismantles the building blocks of visual processing by eliminating perspective, scale and implied narrative. Engaging with his work necessitates no prior knowledge which forces the experience to be in the present and compels us to sense, see and feel the world in a new way. Cain Marcus' photographs are combined with layers of paint to create deep, complex and evocative color. His belief is that through color we experience pieces of the universe that otherwise could not be expressed. —Richard Nonas, from the Introduction to Iterations

Peggy Roalf: Finding a subject for a publishable project entails an intermix of thought and intuition. In your previous work you’ve made major expeditions, including traveling the entire 1,500-mile length of the Ganges for Goddess. Since then, you have turned to abstraction, exploring an emotional rather than a physical climate. What prompted you to take what seems like an almost opposite view of the physical environment that you turn your lens upon? And how much intervention do you bring to the photographic images that emerge from your camera?

Caleb Cain Marcus: At first glance the new work might seem like a departure from the earlier landscapes, but color drives my images, both the landscapes and the more abstract search for color that’s profound and emotional. The desire for deeper more complex color that could show a thickness and translucence was the catalyst for A brief movement after death.This kind of color couldn’t be achieved with the old way of doing things. Everything that distracted from color had to be removed and it became clear that narrative and place ignited a cognitive function that took away from seeing. When looking does not rely on past knowledge, a stillness arises. The interaction between seeing, feeling, and color occurs in the present and without the voice of thought. 

PR: In your work for Goddess you have described how the physical dangers of exploration play into your search for photographic imagery that expresses something deep within. In the newer abstractions, have you “traveled” to find the “dangers” that lie within the human condition? 

CCM: Have I! Formerly the landscapes were shaped to reflect internal thoughts. Now the path is more direct, the scaffolding that used to hold the idea, the narrative, or the subject has been removed, which allows the thoughts and feelings to be looked at directly. 

PR: You have said in previous interviews that since childhood you have been “attracted to ideas that lie beyond our belief of what is possible,” seeking a “nontraditional narrative that builds…as the experience of space and color is felt.” Is there a process of letting go of certain beliefs—or finding new ones—as you have abandoned the descriptive in your work?

CCM: It’s a honing down process to make the work as potent as possible. I seek color that can move us and become a physical presence, like an object in the room. The new work is a concentration of my earlier work. 

PR: Your own writings about your work and process are finely wrought and highly emotive. How much do you engage with the written word as you develop your ideas? Do you have a set practice of writing or is there a randomness to your use of texts?

CCM: I would love to write more. Writing brings clarity to the process of experimenting and helps to sculpt the ideas that photography presents visually. 

PR: Your recent book, A Brief Moment After Death, includes twenty images [three of which are shown here] bound into a 48-page volume. In a way, this seems to be more of an “index of ideas” than a photo book. In what way did the publications of this book (which must have been something of a hard sell to Damiani, no?) influence your subsequent work?

CCM: I like the phrase “an index of ideas” because it shows there is an exploration and a fluidity in the thinking about the work during its creation. After finishing Goddess,  I paused my photography practice; when I returned more than a year later, I had the energy and the desire to play and experiment. Out of this experimentation came the method of using a grease pencil attached to a string to create marks across [a] print. The marks were my first expression for the layering of color onto something that could not be produced without using another tool joined together with the photograph.

PR: Photography—and photographic processes—are not generally thought of as “supports” for textural elements. What brought you to the idea of keeping photography as the base of your deeper exploration of abstract thought, and the transformation of those ideas into imagery?

CCM: I’m a photographer who makes photographs, but the medium has to push the boundaries of what’s comfortable in order evolve and remain compelling. I wanted to pare photography down until I reached the place that attracted me to pick up a camera. And it was always the light. I’m enchanted by light and all the qualities of light that exist. And what better medium to use than photography to capture light?

PR: Could you speak about your next book, Iterations, which has an introduction by the acclaimed post-minimalist sculptor Richard Nonas, and how you see this work evolving in the future?

CCM: I met Richard at a dinner party. Years later he came over to my studio a few times and we would sit down for long talks about ideas and thoughts surrounding art and photography. He influenced the way I think about an object sitting in space and encouraged me to experiment — that the smallest variation in a line can have a transformative effect. 

I’m trying to get away from the constraints that have been placed on photography. The prints from Iterations are a statement of the camera’s ability to render light. They also accomplish a quality and presence of color that could not be achieved with a straight photograph. The use of watercolor over portions of the print produce a hue, translucence and surface texture that combine with the photograph to create color that is immersive and evocative. These prints, to me, are photography at its soul. 

Tonight, the Telluride Fine Art Gallery will host an opening reception from 5 to 8 pm for Caleb Cain Marcus | A Brief Moment After Death,  with all twenty unique prints from the book (Damiani 2018).  The gallery presents this work alongside that of Caleb’s father, Carl Marcus, a noted landscape photographer who has lived in Telluride for the last 40 years. Info For more about Caleb’s books, please  go here. All photos © copyright 2019 and courtesy of Caleb Cain Marcus

Works by Caleb Cain Marcus have been collected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, the High Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, among other institutions. His work has been presented at the Ross Museum at Ohio Wesleyan, the National Academy of Sciences in D.C., the Houston Center for Photography in Houston, Tufts Art Gallery in Boston, Palm Beach Photographic Center in West Palm Beach, among others. His photographs have been published in six monographs and multiple anthologies. He received his MFA from Columbia University. For more information,

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