Carolyn Marks Blackwood heard the ice break in the tide before she saw it. It was winter in the Hudson Valley, along the River. “I went down to the shore with my camera to see what was happening,” she remembers. There, she discovered thousands of pieces of ice, broken like shards of mirror, sparkling as they reflected the world around her.
Blackwood captured about twenty shots before her battery died. She planned to wake up early the following day to make more, but when she did, she found all the ice had melted. She’d missed her chance.
That was fifteen-plus years ago. Since then, the artist has photographed the Hudson River, returning time and again to the same bluff close to her home to capture the flowing water. From November 19th through January 7th, some of the photographs she’s made during that time will be on view as part of Water, Water, Everywhere, a solo exhibition at Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles.
The title of the show is drawn from a line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, following the long-ago journey of an old sailor and his crew. His story starts with the killing of an albatross, a violent act that sets the stage for what follows. The crew dies slowly, one by one. Alone and tormented by guilt, the mariner returns home from sea, but he is doomed to walk the Earth, telling his tale over and over, forever.
“The quote, ‘Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink’ from the poem took on a new meaning for me this year, especially this summer as severe droughts, extreme heat, storms and rainfall, catastrophic mudslides, and flooding visited many places around the globe,” Marks Blackwood explains. “Water, either too much or too little, has been a big topic of conversation lately, and while it is one of the most precious commodities that we can not live without, it can be a hugely destructive force.”
It’s a fitting title for an exhibition motivated by an artist’s love for the natural world—and her grief over the collective actions of humanity. In the poem, the fictional albatross is slayed with a cross-bow; today, in real life, the world’s remaining albatrosses are threatened by large-scale human activity, including longline fisheries, trash and debris (the birds eat our discarded plastics and starve to death), and changes wrought by climate change.
Of course, the albatrosses aren’t alone. Climate change has already sparked water crises worldwide, including severe droughts and flooding. The Hudson River provides drinking water for millions of people. Today, it’s protected by organizations like Riverkeeper, but the water quality is still threatened, decades after the passing of the Clean Water Act. Over the years, Marks Blackwood has been an enduring champion for the River and its protection.
Ultimately, Water, Water, Everywhere is about hope, even amid a decade of fear and change. Marks Blackwood’s photographs recall mythic visions of fire and ice, but as she notes, they are not apocalyptic. While some feature frozen blocks of ice in winter, most are of running water, reflecting the glint of sunlight as it falls across the landscape.
These aren’t visions of the end of the world; they feel more like primordial memories from the time of its creation. Marks Blackwood moved to the Hudson Valley from New York City after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The River has nurtured, healed, and entranced her. “I feel more at home out to sea than I do on dry land,” she admits.
The moments she’s caught here can never be repeated. The clouds will move; the tides will shift, and the light will change. Her photographs represent glittering, irreplaceable shards of time. She’s right: they’re joyful, not apocalyptic. But they do capture, as few pictures do, the fact that nature doesn’t stand still, as much as we might wish it did. Everything is fleeting, so everything is precious. Blink, and you’ll miss it.
Marks Blackwood still remembers when she heard the River freeze and crack all those years ago. She’s had many more chances to photograph the water in winter, and in every other season, but the curiosity, wonder, and elation that first drew her to the shore have never faded. Every year feels like the first time. “With ice, I feel so excited, at the exclusion of everything else,” the artist tells me. “I sometimes forget and get close to frostbite. I have to run inside to my car to warm up my face and hands.”
All images © Carolyn Marks Blackwood