Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow is a beatific exhibition documenting the souls of animals and humans communing through a mix of photography, film, art installation, and a novel in letters.
Colbert’s epic body of work is comprised of the most arresting images, including a reverent child reading to a kneeling elephant, statuesque cheetahs with African bushmen, and the insouciant artist himself “dancing” (free-diving) underwater with a 55-foot Sperm whale. Each photograph reflects Colbert’s intention to dissolve the illusion of boundaries between humans and our fellow species on the planet. Accordingly, all of the photos are stills with no digital doctoring, a fact that only lends itself to the integrity of Colbert’s visionary talents.
The images exude the serene harmony one might discover in the deepest of meditations, or in this instance, kneeling next to a cheetah. The relational themes between animals and humans radiate the sensuality and richness of life found in the timeless silence of temples, deserts, and waters from unnamed places and unknown eras.
In commenting on his personal impetus for Ashes and Snow, Colbert revealed: “I wanted to use my whole heart, in a whole way, in a whole direction.” This intention has resulted in an undeniably breathtaking experience. The symbolism and spirit of each photo bursts forward like poetry reminiscent of Rumi. Colbert has created meditations that compel the acknowledgment and remembrance of an eternal life force that runs through all beings, animal and human. He shows us our world as one where creatures commune in mutual respect and understanding.
Giuli Cordara, a veteran in the conservation world, confers. “What Gregory’s powerful images can do for animals took me years to do when I directed the animal welfare foundation. These photos make people think about nature, that we are part of the planet. We are animals too.”
The exhibition is housed in a Nomadic Museum, a purpose-built temporary structure made from reusable and recycled materials, including steel colbiners stacked in a checkerboard pattern to create rigid walls 34 feet high. Colbert’s unframed, sepia photographs, printed on Japanese cloth-like parchment, float from invisible cables installed between two-foot thick paper-tube columns supporting the space.
Canadian-born Colbert began creating the project in 1992, and it has continually evolved based on his ongoing filming and photographic expeditions. The first exhibition of Ashes and Snow took place in Venice, Italy in 2002, funded by a handful of private collectors and the Rolex Corporation. From there, the exhibition traveled to New York City, where the Nomadic Museum was assembled at Pier 54 on the Hudson River under the guidance of award-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Ashes and Snow has since migrated to Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Mexico City, and continues to roam the globe today. With more than ten million total visitors to date and counting, Ashes and Snow has become the most attended exhibition by any living artist in history.
The intricacies of both the Nomadic Museum and Ashes and Snow have been graciously funded by patrons, allowing Colbert the freedom of artistry. In return, Colbert’s true vision is expressed in mythic, soulful moments that live as visceral experiences for each visitor before thought, before the mind.
For more information on Ashes and Snow and exhibition venues, visit gregorycolbert.com.