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Book Reviews: A Portrait of Ice

A Portrait of Ice. Photographs by Caleb Cain Marcus.
Published by MACK, 2012.
A Portrait of Ice
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

A Portrait of Ice
Photographs by Caleb Cain Marcus.
Damiani, 2012. Hardbound. 72 pp., color illustrations throughout, 12x14-1/2".


Space and silence occupy Caleb Cain Marcus' soul and he translates those ideas in photographs. His first book dealt with the city at night. His second book, A Portrait of Ice, examines glaciers and how ice translates space and silence.

For this book, Cain Marcus forgoes black and white and the urban for color and the ice deserts of Patagonia, Iceland, Alaska and Norway. At first glance, the landscapes seem to be one place. Going through the book a second or third time and examining the mostly vertical pictures, the differences in how the ice appears and how it was seen become clear.

The amazing blue tint that resides in some of the glaciers highlights the reasoning for the switch to color. There is also dirt, pollen and other elements in the ice that help to show the differences in the areas. At the end of the book notes about the glaciers and the trips Cain Marcus made provide a greater understanding of the locations. This is done succinctly and elegantly; those two words also describe the object of the book. Its clean design and larger size block out the modern world when examining the photographs up close, and the writings of Marvin Heiferman and Robin Bell bring clarity to his project and the importance of ice in our world.

A Portrait of Ice, by Caleb Cain Marcus. Published by Damiani, 2012.
A Portrait of Ice, by Caleb Cain Marcus. Published by Damiani, 2012.
Cain Marcus also writes a note on color and its meaning, which is interesting in this age where color is the dominant medium. The bright blue hue of the ice against nearly grey skies demands color, which is used deftly. Photography's power of description is in its fullest form with these pictures. Photography's power of visual trickery is also at work since the landscape is disorienting; a feeling of floating is present throughout the series. I am not sure if the camera is hovering or if Cain Marcus is constantly looking at the edge of an ice cliff. This idea is powerful.

A Portrait of Ice, by Caleb Cain Marcus. Published by Damiani, 2012.
A Portrait of Ice, by Caleb Cain Marcus. Published by Damiani, 2012.
The final pictures of the book hint at the present state of the glaciers, with a stream-like formation running through the images. Cain Marcus presents these exotic landscapes with an eye for disorienting beauty. He is not editorializing the land. Cain Marcus faces them squarely and describes what it is he sees and feels. It is the clarity of these spaces that makes mysterious pictures. He found a silent space worth exploring.—TOM LEININGER

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TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.

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