The Photographic Alphabet: M is for Vanessa Marsh
By Tyson Duffy
In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl introduced the concept of what he calls “super-meaning.” It’s a notion at the foundations of his study of the human mind, the idea that beyond all of humankind’s knowledge of the world and of the self lay a deeper knowledge of an implacable universe that is infinite and ultimately unknowable. We must accept this immovable mystery not just to survive, Frankl says, but in order that we may really live. Vanessa Marsh’s photographs, a mixed-media approach based in photography that produces something called a chromogenic photogram, offer an artist’s vision of that infinitude in a way that attempts to both render the enigma and enlarge its mystery.
Though at first the images appear to be treated shots of the night sky, in fact Marsh uses miniature silhouettes (telephone wire, mountainscapes, palm trees, windmills) projected on acetate sheets, then layers the silhouettes over the images to create artificial foreground. This renders the human world, the very earth, more like what it really is: set design. An impermanent refuge for life inside a vast and otherwise void blankness.
As Dr. Frankl wastes no time in pointing out in his book, nothing about this idea of an indifferent universe is either pessimistic or meaningless. Quite the opposite. In having been given the one opportunity in this universe to live, love, know, and to create beauty, it behooves us to conduct our lives with meaning and hopefulness. In the end, it’s the only way to a meaningful life.
Marsh’s images were on exhibition at the Foley Gallery in New York throughout September and October.