By John Veldhoen


I’m reading a book that I have out on what looks like an indefinite loan from the Calgary Public Library called “Native Art of the Northwest Coast: A History of Changing Ideas”. It’s a historiographic collection of materials and essays; one, in particular, has held me in sway. The essay is entitled “Thresholds of Meaning: Voice, Time, and Epistemology in the Archaeological Consideration of Northwest Coast Art”. It illustrates a new set of methodologies that parallel ways of thinking from Ancient Greece. Ideas about continuing time versus the instant moment, as expressed in the differential between Chronos, and Kairos. Heady stuff, ok, but what I love about this book is it caused me to hold my ideas up to a lens I am unfamiliar with. 

What I have come to know is that I really do not know much at all. I have a feeling that what is called civilization seems to be coming apart. But this feeling has been offset by a new way of looking at said civilization. Seeing history through a new lens is fruitful. Incidentally, these concepts of time I am struggling with are useful to think about for a photographer. The image, taken from the flow of time forms a crystal to peer through, time crystallizes in the moment.


Looking through the photo catalogue “Civilization” curated and edited by William Ewing and Holly Roussel a few months ago inspired mingling of fear and awe in me. As Ewing points out “the global systems that support our civilization are literally incredible”. The message ‘Civilization’ communicates is that we are straining against the limitations of population and resources. We are not talking about psychic death, as poets Jan Zwicky and Robert Bringhurst discuss in their book “Learning How to Die”. We are speaking about the total human being, if not the entire human race. In a time of “social distancing” the late great photographer Michael Wolf’s pictures in “Civilization” seem incredible indeed.


Looking through “Civilization”, I am not overawed today, rather I am filled with gentleness and a feeling of love for all we have wrought. The domestic longing of Donna Schwarz’s series “Empty Nesters” calls to my mind how Northwestern BC indigenous peoples may have conjoined the ceiling of their habitats to the vault of heaven. Even the most unornamented interior, seemingly only functional, houses our imagination. Our world, our civilization, is ornamented so lavishly.


How lovely it all is. 


Featured in this blog:

Civilization: The Way We Live Now

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In addition to being on our sales team, John curates The Camera Store's book selection and is a contributing author of our blog. He likes to think about photography, talk about photography, and sometimes write about photography.