December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

“Water, Water, Everywhere”: An Artist’s Ode to the Hudson River

4 min read

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Carolyn Marks Blackwood heard the ice break in the flood before she saw it. It was winter in the Hudson Valley by the river. “I went to shore with my camera to see what was happening,” she recalls. There she discovered thousands of pieces of ice, broken like shards of mirror, sparkling as they reflected the world around them.

Blackwood fired about twenty shots before her battery died. She planned to get up early the next day to make more, but when she did, she found all the ice had melted. She had missed her chance.

That was over fifteen years ago. Since then, the artist has photographed the Hudson River, always returning to the same bluff near her home to capture the flowing water. From November 19th to January 7th, some of the photographs she took during this time will be on view as part of Water, Water, Everywhere, a solo show at Von Lintel Gallery in Los Angeles.

The show’s title comes from a line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge describing the long-ago voyage of an ancient seaman and his crew. His story begins with the killing of an albatross, a violent act that sets the stage for what follows. The crew is slowly dying, one by one. Alone and wracked with guilt, the sailor returns home from the sea, but he is doomed to walk the earth and tell his story over and over again, forever.

“The ‘water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink’ quote from the poem took on new meaning for me this year, especially this summer when severe droughts, extreme heat, storms and rains, catastrophic mudslides and floods have all hit many places around the world,” explains Marks Blackwood. “Water, either too much or too little, has been a big topic of conversation lately, and while it’s one of the most precious commodities we can’t live without, it can be a tremendously destructive force.”

It’s an apt title for an exhibition motivated by an artist’s love of nature – and her sadness at the collective actions of humanity. In the poem, the fictional albatross is killed with a crossbow; Today, the world’s remaining albatrosses are threatened in real life by large-scale human activity, including longline fishing, trash and debris (the birds eat our discarded plastics and starve), and changes caused by climate change.

Of course, the albatrosses are not alone. Climate change has already triggered water crises around the world, including severe droughts and floods. The Hudson River provides drinking water for millions of people. Today it is protected by organizations like Riverkeeper, but water quality is still under threat decades after the Clean Water Act was passed. Over the years, Marks Blackwood has been a steadfast advocate 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 evoke mythical visions of fire and ice, but, as she notes, they are not apocalyptic. While some feature blocks of ice frozen in winter, most are composed of flowing water that reflects the brilliance of sunlight as it falls across the landscape.

These are not visions of the end of the world; they feel more like primal memories from the time of their creation. Marks Blackwood relocated to the Hudson Valley from New York City after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The river has nourished, healed and enchanted them. “I feel more at home on the sea than on land,” she admits.

The moments she captured here cannot be repeated. The clouds will move; The tides will change and the light will change. Her photographs are glittering, irreplaceable fragments of time. She’s right: They’re cheerful, not apocalyptic. But they capture, like few images, the fact that nature does not stand still as much as we would like it to. Everything is fleeting, so everything is precious. Blink and you will miss it.

Marks Blackwood still remembers hearing the river freeze over and break all those years ago. She’s had many more opportunities to photograph the water in winter and any other time of year, but the curiosity, wonder and excitement that first drew her to the shore has never faded. Every year feels like the first time. “I get so excited about ice cream that I shut out everything else,” the artist tells me. “Sometimes I forget and I’m close to frostbite. I have to run to my car to warm up my face and hands.”

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All images © Carolyn Marks Blackwood

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