Marking Our Place in the World


A look at the unique human tendency to mark the landscape.

The impetus for this project came from a tree—festooned with shoes—at a rest stop on U.S. Highway 50 in Nevada. After photographing it I started digging through my car for my own piece of footwear that I could add—and then I stopped, not really understanding why I’d experienced that odd impulse. I am interested in that impulse and it’s result as applied to the landscape.

As humans we must communicate – it is what we do best. We seem hardwired from birth to do this via a complicated system using signs and symbols. But removed from our normal settings and tools, how do we compensate? Why are we compelled to “leave our mark” upon landscape, whether or not others understand its meaning or semiology?

In my photographic investigation of this idea, the marks themselves are more relevant to me than the particular landscape they inhabit. I am also interested in how our interventions impact the landscape, both natural and urban, in ways that are permanent as well as changed by time and nature. I explore themes of history, language and communication, while observing the dynamic of personal and group expression as it plays out on the landscape.

Our need for land—or sky—to reflect meaning is indicative of the same primal impulse we have to leave our presence upon the landscape. We imagine mythical figures in the stars. We see the Virgin Mary in the knots of a tree. We are both compelled to make marks as well as to decipher their meanings. By looking at how we have marked the landscape through time, we gain insight into our personal and collective history. To decline such study is to leave to others the control of the world of meanings in which we inhabit.