In 2014, photographer Caleb Cain Marcus finished his 1,569-mile pilgrimage along the Ganges River, winding through India and Bangladesh with a camera that captured foggy landscapes, milk-white skies and thousands of locals who worshiped the river.
Starting in Gangotri, India, a Hindu pilgrim town perched on the snowcapped Himalayas where the river originates as a narrow stream, and ending 44 days later in the Bay of Bengal, Marcus followed the Ganges on foot and by boat. The New York-based artist’s resulting photos celebrate the sacredness of the Ganges, a river locals believe is a spiritual lifeline to the Hindu goddess Gaṅgā: In the image “Humans, Earth, Water and Space,” on display at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in West Palm Beach, Cain captures a dreamy atmosphere of thick fog settling over a sea of colorfully clothed people bathing and washing clothes along the river bank.
Speaking by phone from his Manhattan studio, Marcus admits he isn’t spiritual, but after first visiting India as a boy, he grew fascinated with locals’ connection to the Ganges and chose to return.
“It’s a living, breathing, spiritual river,” Marcus, 39, says. “Without it, there would be no civilization. That was the most unexpected or amazing part. I can relate to the whole river as a place and as a personality.”
Five of Marcus’ photos appear in the center’s new geography-themed exhibition “Photography of Place,” opening Friday, March 24. The group show assembles 153 photos from 25 international photographers, living and dead, who capture decaying architecture, vast landscapes, oceans, wildlife and street scenes from around the world.
Exhibit curator Raymond Merritt, a retired attorney who lives part-time in Wellington and Manhattan, started collecting photography in New York after college, first with Walker Evans’ social documentary photos in Depression-era America. For this exhibit, he says he wanted to show “a sense of place,” not people.
“It interests me because these photographs deliver an almost better view of nature than nature itself,” Merritt says. “There’s something about the way the artists bring to life the balance of light and color that the naked eye can’t really see.”
The earliest photographs in the display, taken about 1910, are photography pioneer Eugene Atget’s black-and-white images of aging buildings in a rapidly modernizing Paris, obsessed as he was with recording French architecture he felt was “slipping away,” Merritt says. Nearby is the centerpiece of the exhibit, 12 photos of a German home with wooden struts by experimental-photography couple Bernd and Hilla Becher. The Bechers returned to the same farmhouse-style home over several years in the 1960s and 1970s while it fell into disrepair and was abandoned.
Elsewhere are images of American landscapes taken by Swiss-born American Robert Frank, whose 1958 book “The Americans” is filled with images taken on a cross-country car trip with his family; the Venice-born Renato D’Agostin, who captures the relationship between people and Italian architecture; Lucien Clergue, a lifelong friend of Picasso whose photos visit the Camargue region of France; and Kristin Capp, whose eight-year project in Brazil highlights the dreams and values of local Brazilians.
“As photographers, we go to places that capture you so much you just have to capture them on camera,” Palm Beach Photographic Centre director Fatima NeJame says. “The place touches you. It relates to you.”
It is the fragments of a place — shadows, colors, geometric shapes — that attract New York photographer Ralph Gibson, who worked as an assistant to Dorothea Lange in the early 1960s. Four of his diptychs hang in the center as part of his “Political Abstraction” series, including two images of a traffic light and an aerial view of a construction worker’s hard hat. Although the objects seem unusually paired, Gibson says in a phone interview, he was fascinated by the way their roundness looked similar.
“I see a relationship between the colors and shapes in these places,” says Gibson, 78, who has used Leica cameras exclusively since 1961. “The round hat and the traffic light almost seem to be aware of each other. They were taken in Manhattan and Korea separately, but they look like they could’ve been taken around the corner from your house.”
“Photography of Place” will open with a reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, March 24, at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 415 Clematis St., in West Palm Beach. The exhibit will close May 27. Admission is free. Call 561-253-2600 or go to Workshop.org.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4364