In winter and spring of 2018, I traveled solo through the Middle East, over the Caucasian Mountains, and into Central Asia. Through photography, I desired to track the path of civilization from the Levant and onto the Silk Road—to witness landscapes of awe and to catalog ancient and modern sites of power and belief, of which I found many. Yet on the route to these ruins, I also ran smack into contemporary development of communities and of nations in the process of shaping their narratives and visual identities as they transition out of war, old overlords, and corruption, sometimes with questionable returns or comic results. The urban landscape and the details of quotidian life evinced the continued potency of multiple eras—the Biblical, the Socialist, the Industrial, the Mongol—and it became my quest to capture the very size of these countries and their histories, the enormity of these lands and spaces and cultures. I sought out the relationships between the manmade and the natural, using photography to elicit how the structures and the landscapes interact, reinforcing the fact that buildings are built out of their environments, out of these mountains and deserts. The resulting images seek to remind us of the way that civilization is just a transition away from the natural world. Via the ruin that will certainly come, civilization will journey home back to the materiality that spawned it: the rocks and ice and acres of sand. Architectural and design details, too, suggest how the mountains and deserts have gotten into the minds of the people, such that homes are built to resemble them, and the persons, when in the photos, markedly appear of their environments, from the rolling shoulders and hips of the Bedouin in Petra to the dispassionate weathered men hunkered down in the High Caucasus Mountains.
This ongoing project “On the Route to Ruins: From Baalbek to Bukhara” is part documentary of contemporary life, part lyric meditation on civilization, and part light-paintings of awe. The opening chapter here stitches together photographs of the seven countries explored on this initial four-month journey. There are similarities to ponder across these varied lands and cultures, along with the distinctions. Additional chapters presented on this website offer portraits of these individual countries, with the goal of sharing both the everyday atmosphere and the momentous tableaux of lands too little known outside their region.