Book Review Chicxulub By Mårten Lange Reviewed by Karen Jenkins “For those tuned into the lost worlds of our prehistory, the word Chicxulub is enough to conjure the cataclysmic event of some 66 million years ago that wiped out much of life on Earth and lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs."
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins
Photographs by Mårten Lange.
Self-Published, Stockholm, Sweden, 2016. 48 pp., 28 duotone illustrations, 8¼x11".
For those tuned into the lost worlds of our prehistory, the word Chicxulub is enough to conjure the cataclysmic event of some 66 million years ago that wiped out much of life on Earth and lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Named after the small town in the Yucatan Peninsula situated near its center, the Chicxulub Crater was formed where an asteroid struck and unleashed its wave of epic destruction. Those less familiar will need to do their own background digging, as neither narrative summary nor conventional visual tour is to be found in Swedish photographer Mårten Lange’s latest photo book, Chicxulub. Even had he sought to cast off his typically reserved style in pursuit of a sensationalistic visual tale, this prehistoric epic is largely lacking in correspondingly grand visual traces in the Mexico of today. Half of the crater rests under the Caribbean Sea, and on land, the obvious physical evidence is scant. Yet this is no impediment to Lange’s photographic exploration. In Chicxulub, he creates a lean, evocative series that explores this place and this singular event in quiet images conjuring destruction and endurance, in natural forms and man-made structures.
In the opening photograph, a ribbon of coastline appears beyond an expanse of ocean; once on land, a reptile, a most otherworldly host, almost beckons the viewer to follow. In just twenty-eight images, Lange sets up a trip through past and present, negative and positive space, and loss and perseverance. It’s certainly possible to tease out references to the devastating effects of the asteroid’s strike and the slow adaptation and recovery of life forms and land mass over millions of years. And yet, Chicxulub sings not in its linear delineation of a long-ago cataclysm, but rather in how it pulls this thematic thread through an insistently open-ended, expansive series of images that are rich fodder for the imagination. Scale is manipulated throughout. We see an epic crater in a likely pothole. The monuments of a lost Mayan civilization are presented as equivalents to the grand, yet oft overlooked, structures of ant and bee colonies. For both, presence is inextricably linked to absence; whether through literal loss and destruction or the failures of our observation. Fragility and vulnerability are given form in the echoed shapes of a faded leaf and a dead bird, but a defensive, enduring spirit is also present in the spikey armor of both reptiles and plant forms.
In spite of the many millions of years that separate the disastrous event that piqued Lange’s interest and his exploration of its subtle contemporary presence, Chicxulub feels profoundly timely, relevant. There’s much in the air in today’s world to unsettle and unnerve. Lange’s work reminds me of our collective vulnerability – a certain cosmic loss of control that Chicxulub represents, and more pointedly that which stems from failure and destruction of our own making. I was surprised to learn in my own background reading that the Chicxulub crater has been the site of a new scientific study this year. A drilling expedition sponsored by the International Ocean Discovery Program has extracted core samples of granite bedrock impacted by the asteroid strike. What stood out for me among resulting revelations was a simple footnote. Half of the core samples will be preserved for future study; a common practice that carries with it a hopeful optimism that in the future, we will be better and will do better. This is not Lange’s science, or his observations. Yet his work led me to it, and like this project, Lange’s photographs open up what is rarely seen, unaided, inciting a whirlwind of thought, within his pages and without, ending on a hopeful note. — Karen Jenkins
KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.
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