A Walk Through The Clouds

Infinite Light: A Photographic Meditation on Tibet

 Marissa Roth, Crows and halo above Rongbuk Monastery near Mt. Everest base camp. May 2007. © Marissa Roth.

Now on view at Phoenix art Museum, Infinite Light can only be described as a visual poem in the form of a long, single sentence. Narrating the sequence of photographs is a rich, varied intonation of color that, as it flows, unfurls in the colors of the Tibetan prayer flags. Emanating from views of monks, holy spaces, nature and art, the deep blues and purples of twilight skies swell and burst into saturated, pulsating reds before they melt into soft, leafy greens and rich golden-yellows. The colors ebb and flow in the rarified mountain air, and in their totality come to compose a unified poetic expression, a visual love letter to Tibet.

“Phoenix Art Museum is delighted to bring Infinite Light to our galleries,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “This exhibition represents a chance for our community to experience the rarely-seen landscapes, art and culture of Tibet right here in Phoenix, and we’re excited to share this distinctive photographic series with our visitors.”

 Marissa Roth, Monk standing next to his living quarters at Shalu Monastery. May 2007. © Marissa Roth.

Experienced as a whole, the Infinite Light series embodies artist Marissa Roth’s original vision for the exhibition – a continuous linear sentence evoked in photographs, brought to life with pigmented ink on watercolor paper. Roth, a photojournalist, traveled to the country in 2007 and 2010 to produce an ethnographic study that focused on Tibetan Buddhist practice and devotion. The resulting photographs and book reflect the inner and outer journeys of the places Roth traversed, revealing a creative vision that speaks to the experience of Tibet in a deeply affectionate, almost reverential voice.

During her travels, Roth used Kodachrome film. Kodachrome, which is no longer produced, was considered the ‘black and white’ of color film for its dramatic highlights and deep shadows. The film allowed Roth to punctuate lush tones of red and orange while capturing subtler earth tones and rendering the truest photographic black. In the artist’s  words, the film’s potential for visual contrast was integral to the project. “It is this contradiction and duality that I continually search for and respond to visually, as I believe that they are the seen metaphors for all that exists.”

Marissa Roth, A pilgrim climbs the steps of the Potala Palace in Lhasa. May 2007. © Marissa Roth.

“Marissa Roth’s photographs deftly capture the highly spiritual, yet deeply visceral, essence of Tibetan culture,” said Janet Baker, the Museum’s curator of Asian art. “The stark contrast between light and shadows and the intense, saturated colors that move through the series evoke a poetic, almost intimate feeling of what it feels like to experience life at 12,000 feet.”

While sequencing the photographs, Roth underwent an unintentionally meditative practice of her own. In order to meticulously adjust the images’ order, she hung prints on several tall boards, around which she walked continuously, mirroring the Buddhist practice of walking meditation, in which the experience of movement provides a path to mindfulness and awareness. The artist translated this experience to the exhibition itself. The closely-spaced photographs are arranged clockwise, referencing the directional movement of Tibetan monasteries and shrines. Visitors are encouraged to contemplate the images at their own meditative pace.

 Marissa Roth, Crows and halo above Rongbuk Monastery near Mt. Everest base camp. May 2007. © Marissa Roth.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Marissa Roth is an internationally-published documentary photographer. Roth was part of the Los Angeles Times photography staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for Best Spot News for its coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Since then, her freelance work has earned her publication in many major news media outlets, including the New York Times.

Roth’s work also has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions and a number of images are in museum, corporate and private collections including projects such as One Person Crying: Women and War, a personal photo essay that addresses the immediate and lingering impact of war on women in different countries and cultures around the world, and Witness to Truth, a portrait project commissioned by The Museum of Tolerance/Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, to photograph the Holocaust survivors who volunteer at that institution. She also curated an exhibition of photographs taken by Vietnam Veterans during the war, entitled My War: Wartime Photographs by Vietnam Veterans which debuted at The Highground Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville, Wisconsin in August 2016.

EXHIBITION PROGRAM 

November 1 at 12 p.m.

Gallery Talk by Ann Wall, master docent and photographer

Through her series of photographs, Marissa Roth transports the viewer to Tibet with subtle, even abstract, images of light, shadow, and color. Each picture flows into the next, creating a visual sentence and evoking a sense of spirituality and mystery. Phoenix Art Museum docent Ann Wall will discuss Roth’s creation of this group of connected pictures, and how the medium of photography was most appropriate for this project. Free for Members and included with general admission.

Infinite Light: A Photographic Meditation on Tibet

September 23, 2017 through February 18, 2018

Phoenix Art Museum

www.phxart.org