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how lonely, to be a marsh: Reviewed by Christian Michael Filardo

Book Review how lonely, to be a marsh Photographs by Madeline Cass Reviewed by Christian Michael Filardo The promise and pathology of America in the photographs of Epstein, more than half of which are previously unpublished.
how lonely, to be a marsh. By Madeline Cass.
how lonely, to be a marsh  
Photographs by Madeline Cass

self published, 2019. 100 pp., 8x10".

I have been in the wetlands of Virginia when they crested their banks due to an abundance of rainwater to join the River James and caused an algae bloom to kill the fish where the heron makes its nest. Wading knee-high into blue-green, god-knows-what, down by the train tracks while looking for something I still cannot define.

Marshes have an unsettlingly quiet wilderness about them. Waters so dark that gazing into the murk will have you mimicking a witch, looking into a scrying mirror for answers stewed in myth. A similar, yet more compassionate, energy arises when leafing through how lonely, to be a marsh by Madeline Cass. The poet-photographer’s first monograph blends documentary photography with the arts to build narrative around threatened Nebraska wetlands.

how lonely, to be a marsh. By Madeline Cass.

While some may see this book as an active rebellion towards a capitalist society, pushing for the protection of nature. I believe that Cass is using the marsh as a medium to further understand her own identity. Not to imply that the goal of the artist here is inherently selfish but, rather, to say that an  eco-warrior mentality is not the main draw to this experience. That is to say, if we are going to assume that the marsh has feelings synonymous to those of a human being, then we are seeing those emotions projected, through Madeline, onto soil, water, and the wildlife therein via photography, poetry, and research.

how lonely, to be a marsh. By Madeline Cass.
What strikes me most about this book is the artist’s ability to weave themes together in a fairly chaotic way. The interior design is all over the place. Handwritten text merges with typeface, images overlay other images, archival scans go full bleed at random. If the intention behind the design was to copy the fluid natural chaos of the Earth, we find success in the presentation. Images serve as document while walking the line between fine-art and photojournalism.

how lonely, to be a marsh. By Madeline Cass.
These are images that, at times, feel like historical documents, but serve the viewer’s inherent desire for a little eye-candy. We get the sunsets, we get the eggs, we get brush blurred, we get the taxidermy eagle, we get the archival aerial photograph. All the bases are covered and serve their purpose. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this book re-issued by a larger publisher once the initial self-published batch runs out.

Ultimately, what we have in how lonely to be a marsh is the documentation of an artist’s early forays into field research and building a compelling body of work around that practice. A truly impressive result for the size of the undertaking Cass took on in Nebraska. I feel as though this book asks us to take a moment to listen to our surroundings. Beckoning us towards the idea of a more sustainable future. One where we, as human beings, are cognizant of the plague we’ve become to our only home. The hope that we can right the ship and save ourselves before the sun sets on our reality. A book abundant with riddles still waiting for answers.

how lonely, to be a marsh. By Madeline Cass.

Christian Michael Filardo is a Filipino American photographer living and working in Richmond, Virginia. Filardo uses their camera to record everyday nuances, later grouping images to create narratives from the mundane, intimate, and quiet. Filardo writes critically for photo-eye and PHROOM and is a co-founder of the Richmond based art space Cherry. They have exhibited domestically and internationally. Their latest book Gerontion was released at the LA Art Book Fair in April 2019. They also released the zine Not Until This Morning (UDLI Editions) at NYABF in September 2019 which has since sold out.