An Icy Sea and All Its Symbols (or on the Marine Photography of Corey Arnold)
A fisherman’s photographs speak, full of meaning and darkness, of life and death at sea.
Time is an ocean but it ends at the shore
In ancient Greece, it was once postulated that a science called obnosis was needed. Today such a science would be defined as the observation of the obvious. A curious and little-known book from 1981, The Elusive Obvious, by pedagogue, philosopher, healer, and former Israeli Minister of Defense, Moshe Feldenkrais, postulated that there is carelessness in our educations in terms of observing deeply that which is right in front of us. One remedy for our collective and oh-so human blindness is, of course, art. Photographer and fisherman, Corey Arnold, in a series of photographs called Aleutian Dreams, builds an impressive portrait of life on a fishing boat crossing the cold seas of Alaska (in the vicinity of the Aleutian Islands) and challenges us to see what lies behind its dark images – filled as they are with death and, paradoxically, with life.
Arnold’s photos show, with a direct immediacy, ships, fish, seagulls, docks, waves, buoys and ropes, cloudy skies, bald eagles, octopuses used for bait, the foam of an agitated sea, bollards, ice, water, coastline, knots, lines, a fox at night, fishermen (always alone and whose face is never seen), a crab, tattered American flags: all the basic and most immediate components of industrial fishing in the Bering Strait and nearby seas. Beyond all of this, beyond the evident cold, beyond the powerful sea, there’s also a profound reflection.
There are keys and fragmentary brushstrokes, too. The titles of the photographs: “Blind Leader,” “Dark Sea,” “Fight or Flight,” “Homecoming,” “Crustacean Resistance,” “The Bering Sea,” “Falling into the Trap,” “Bald Freedom,” and similar names. They give us a glimpse at the core ideas behind this imposing collection: resistance, travel, loneliness, death and, beneath it all, a powerful and icy sea, (as a setting, and as a protagonist, a source of life, and as a place of death).
In chiaroscuro, the artist tells a story of predators (the eagle, the fox, the shark, the octopus, seabirds, the remains of the hunt, a fishing boat and its nets), always in the middle of the cold. And then too, is a story of predator of predators (the cold man and his equally cold hunger), always hidden or nearly hidden. We find the clear though worn symbols of imperial predation: the flag of the United States, the bald eagle, modern industry, the violence of the sea and its climates. Curiously predators are also prey, among animals but for people, too.
The sea, “that resplendent desert” (as Borges once called it); the silence beyond the din of the sea; loneliness in the face of the abyss; the paradox of fixing the fugitive; the need for dark that defines and gives meaning to light; the suppression of the tyrant, time; and the static that conspires beyond movement. These are some of the watery messages that, as if they’d been dreams, Arnold has captured in Aleutian Dreams.
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