Every one of Gregory
Colberts photographs captures a
moment that happened.
The cynical eye is trained to assume trickery in
images such as these, is resistant to the idea that they could represent
the actual and the possible, but these images owe nothing to Photoshop,
photo manipulation, montage, artificial lighting, or special effects.
He has taken the medium of the instantaneous and
turned it into something slow, expansive, epic. You could be looking
at a moment that occurred yesterday, or three hundred years ago.
The effect is uncanny. You feel as if you are in the presence of
a dream, a myth, a fairy tale.
The prints are approximately three feet by ten, on dense, Japanese
cloth-like parchment manufactured in a secret medieval process.
When Colbert travels they occupy their own seat next
to him on the plane. The collection is the result of an ongoing
ten-year long project, of which these pictures form a small sample.
Im interested in exploring intemporal
wonders, so there is no urgency. Five years, ten, fifteen, it wouldnt
have made a difference, because what was being made was completely
outside of time. The project consisted of 25 expeditions to
around the world, to document the interaction between animals and
humans, to India to photograph the elephants that are his first
love, to Sri Lanka, South Africa, Egypt, and the oceans off the
live in species ghettoes. There used to be a diversity of species
in places we lived, whereas now, we have very little interaction
with other species. When were young theres not that
sense of being isolated from other species. Young children are able
to speak with animals, and then they get banished.
The images are born of Colberts unique method,
and the time and space he has been allowed by his patrons, what
he calls his guardian elephants.
I wanted to use my whole heart, in a whole
way, in a whole direction. Some people find that radical thinking,
but in other periods of history it was a given.
He is a renaissance artist in the true sense of the
word, in that his princely patrons allow him to pursue his work
unmolested, and they fund him without the intermediary of agents,
dealers or gallery owners. We had no corporate sponsors, no
foundations, nothing. All private individuals from around the world,
and most of them found me.
In 1991, the Canadian born Colbert was working as
a documentary filmmaker in Paris, when he mounted a small exhibit
of photographs in Switzerland and Japan, which attracted the attention
of some collectors who wanted to see more. This led to the extraordinary
project without deadline or budget, how can you make a budget
for underwater sequences with elephants in the ocean?
the project started, not one collector has sold a work.
This rare freedom allows for an unhampered purity
of artistry, a skys the limit vision that is unlike anything
else out there. We would hang around for months. With whales
we could work for six weeks, without even shooting a frame of film...
around full moons is a good time. I think its the Zulus who
say, patience is an egg that hatches great birds. I guess Im
a Zulu at heart. You wait heartfully, and there are days of miracles,
and there are days when youre just thinking about them. But
you dont push it. The elephants will decide, or the whales
will decide. Ill work on elephant time.
The photographer himself swims with the sperm whales
in the pictures you see without the benefit of breathing apparatus.
Bubbles are a sign of distress for a whale, youve got
to do everything in free dive. Its almost four and a half
tons; youre like an olive in a martini. The most important
thing when working with the worlds largest carnivore is that
you not convey any fear. There were a few incidents, but they were
the exceptions. These are not artistic stunts. Normally I would
not do these things, but if you believe in something, sometimes
you have to fight for it.
The photographs were first unveiled in Venice, Italy
at an extraordinary exhibition at the Arsenale. An exhibition requiring
spectators to walk a mile from beginning to end. I had an
88 year old woman come in today, who said, Im glad Im
still alive because I just saw the most beautiful exhibition Ive
seen in my life. He doesnt want to mount the exhibit
in the usual museums and galleries, what he calls generic
sausages but is entertaining extraordinary, original,
Theres a project to work with a
Japanese architect to make a nomadic museum out of paper, to put
it in Sheeps Meadow in Central Park.
The whole buildings actually recyclable. You
can pick it up and put it on the Serengeti during the migration
of animals, or you could put it on the Bering sea when its
frozen, places where animals and humans actually interact. You dont
have to put it in these economic superpower centers.
His next expedition is to the Antarctic to
send a message to the penguins from elephants in collaboration
with, world-renowned choreographer William Forsythe, dancers, scientists,
and his film crew. Were taking a 65 meter boat from
the St. Petersburg Hydrographic Institute, with a Russian crew of
twenty. Theres going to be 48 of us and its going to
be a wonderful laboratory of wonder.
I love the idea of how the arts worked in the
Renaissance. You could master many things. The arts were not compartmentalized.
If you could make the hairs on peoples necks stand up using
words or movement, or sculpture, just as long as the hairs stand
up. You dont have to stay in any box.Each expedition
also includes a feature film crew, which will result in a feature
length film to be completed by next year.
Its a separate strand of images and theyre
separate languages. It will be a feature film, not at all a documentary,
its in the language of dreams, and its just set to music
and the images.I have to keep going out. My whole life, Ill
keep going. Ive started with white rhinoceros, and giraffes
and Ill be working with akapis. I feel blessed every day that
Im able to do this work.