“Love the elk, man!”
A main street passerby tossed Telluride photographer Carl Marcus a shout-out.
Marcus has a mailing list of friends and neighbors he shares his work with; earlier this summer, he distributed a photo of an elk cow licking her calf while it nursed.
The subject matter was gentle and intimate, but there was nothing sentimental about the composition. Instead, the photo depicted an unguarded moment: cow and calf — part of a sprawling herd, 200 strong at one point — captured by Marcus over a series of days. Another photo depicts an elk, pivoting its head to watch two yellow-headed blackbirds in full-throated song, atop its back. Ungulates and avians doing what they do.
And yet, who save Marcus was around to notice? It is his ability to be there, simultaneously the keen observer and artist, that make his photos so striking. Carolyn Musselman, manager of the Turquoise Door Gallery, where Marcus has an exhibit through mid-September, said, “He tends to take the photos that are in front of us all the time that we don’t see.”
Or rather, that we wouldn’t recognize, because we lack Marcus’s gifts: the resolve to wait for the right shot, to recognize it when it presents itself — and the skill to transform it into an image of brilliant color and extraordinary grandeur.
The region in which we reside is full of such places.
“That’s why most live here,” Marcus acknowledged. “People want to look at the earth or relate to it in some way.”
The photographer has eight landscapes on display at Turquoise Door, all of them large, 60” x 40” prints, and all of them taken locally. The photos, shot as many as eight years — or as recently as three months — ago, line nearly the length of the left side of the gallery. They form a dramatic processional: a rainbow, and Sunshine Peak. An illuminated aspen grove in the Uncompahgre National Forest. “Telluride Alpenglow” (a surreal view, shot shortly before sunset, of Ajax Mountain and the San Miguel River). A single, luminescent aspen, briefly bathed in sunshine as the rest of the landscape dims, photographed in Ophir.
The photos’ order along the wall is deliberate, and their proportions are purposeful.
“The size and lighting give the images an intensity that compel one to relate to them, like wordless poems,” Marcus said. On his website, a fragment of Rilke’s “Ninth Elegy” sets the stage for these shots:
O Earth: invisible!
What, if not transformation,
Is your urgent command?
Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh
believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win
me over — one of them,
ah, even one, is already too
much for my blood…
Marcus is at least as well known in this region for his portraits, which have been on display at the Wilkinson Library and La Cocina de Luz. He said he has been photographing landscapes even longer: “There are landscapes taken in the backcountry that I would mirror image, twice,” he said. “I was trying to create interesting designs, or animals, or combinations of their intersections.”
The shots are on display in the Nugget Building, where he keeps a studio.
Marcus and his son, Caleb Cain Marcus, held a joint exhibit of landscapes last year at Mountainfilm. The younger Marcus’s works are part of the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; critic Mark Feeney wrote of his depictions of glaciers and giant iceforms in Patagonia, Iceland and elsewhere, “Swooning is not uncalled for. These images seem to belong to their own unique medium…”
The same might be said of Marcus pere’s depictions here: Who among us in this region hasn’t seen many of these places before?
Who also doesn’t feel as if they’re observing them for the first time?
The last photo, located deepest in the Turquoise Door’s gallery, and therefore furthest from the front window (and natural sunlight), is an exclamation point of a shot. Entitled “Full Moon,” “surreal” and “sublime” don’t begin to capture this moody scenario. “It was shot from somewhere on Wilson Mesa. The ski area is to the right, and the Ophir mountains,” Marcus said. “The highest silhouette is of Mount Emma.”
He had described the purpose of his show this way: “Beyond the content of anything the senses perceive, there is a never-ending presence. When it is felt, the conscious mind does not function. …My intent is to try to communicate this unknowable, silent, mysterious presence through these large photographs.”
As to “Full Moon,” “The mystery of a cloudy, moonlit night … we’ve created witches and goblins and all kinds of scary things in our mythology,” Marcus said. “There is a sense of somberness, mystery” about this image, but “words are feeble” to describe it.
Indeed, nearly as feeble as “sublime” and “grandeur” and “extraordinary.” And “Love the elk, man!”
All of them, pathetic verbal constructions. All of them just words.
All of them heartfelt.
Carl Marcus’s photography hangs at the Turquoise Door Gallery at Black Bear Trading Co. through mid-September. To see his work online, visit carlmarc.us.