Smoke Shell (ruler) (1998),
In his fifth exhibit of exquisite black-and-white photographs that evoke what Octavio Paz called "the hallucinatory and circular" nature of Mayan history, Vancouver photographer Gerry Schallié presents two new thematic groups. Originally a photojournalist, Schallié imbues these documentary photographs of the remains of pre-Columbian Mesoamérica with a depth of immediacy and strong presence.
His ongoing title, "Pan paxil" or broken place, refers to the mythological site of human origin in the Mayan book of creation. The title ironically makes reference to both the sacredness of the legendary site and the current dilapidated state of the existing ruins. One group of photographs captures the ecological naturalization and decay of ancient man-made sites in Central America, while the other metaphorically represents the human drama and cosmology of this formidable culture.
Schallié's infrared film was subjected to split-filtre printing and the prints bathed in gold and selenium toning solutions. The details of the carved and natural rock surfaces and the moody, theatrical stagesetting-like presence of their pastoral environments are reminiscent of daguerrotypes from the 1840s or antique stereo photographs. However, they are exquisite to the point of visual agony and lush with a poignant spirituality. They recall a formidability as powerful as any reconstructed culture might.
© Mia Johnson