Preface, 01.01.2020

There was a vast life sculpture of a whale, half in its fullness and the other half stripped to a skeleton. You would walk around the corner of the second floor, or look up in amazement from below at the contrast and the size and the impossibility or possibility of it actually being a real whale, airborne and filling an entire central cove. That was my first really big impression of the cultural landscape.

Collecting those kinds of encounters, some grand and some modest is my effort at a kind of personal anthropology which is presented in the form of the Encyclopedia Project.


On Encyclopedia and Cultural Artifact, 09.16.2003

We have a great need to understand and explain the parameters of our existence. Modern civilization is in a steady process of discovery, investigation, collection and explanation of the world in which we live. Landscape is significant because of its human history, purpose, usefulness or geological drama. Studies of animal or plant life can lead to an understanding of greater systems that may govern natural law or affect how we maintain the resources we need to survive. Elements and artifacts in nature and in ancient or modern culture are being cultivated, packaged, and re-presented to us even as our civilized urban society advances upon the domains of nature and our human past.

The concept Encyclopedia is expressive of this, suggesting the accumulation, ordering and presentation of knowledge, recalling the efforts of scientists and scholars to attain this knowledge from ancient times through the enlightenment and into our current age.

How this information is being presented to us now; how our world and our culture chooses to define itself, examine and comment upon itself is the sprawling subject of this body of work that Allen Takichi Maertz has developed over the past few years. Photographing landscape sites and museums in New York, Hawaii, and Japan among other locations, there is a surprising consistency in his view despite the range of venues. The work ostensibly presents things people would go to see as sights and sometimes also the people seeing these things. They are scenes that to a certain extent any tourist with a camera could take a picture of. This, of course, is part of the point, the other side of which is the specificity of view: that no one else could take this picture in this exact way. One quality of the works is that they most often present the whole of their subject with a completeness that is close to a spectator's idealized memory of such a scene. Another is that they capture subtle moments, interactions of light and objects, of frames within frames or scenes within scenes, of individuals as individuals responding to and moving through all this information and all these real and fabricated worlds. And in doing this, ennobled by the camera, they achieve a degree of eloquence; the individuals rise to the level of their history or find their place in the grandeur of nature, annotated though it may be. Without sentimentality and also without being a bland document or mere record, these images are about the process of thought, consideration and the act of seeing.


On Seeing and Opinion

"She saw the objects about her and understood what she saw, but could not form any opinion about them, and did not know what to talk about. And how awful it is not to have any opinions! One sees a bottle, for instance, or the rain, or a peasant driving in his cart, but what the bottle is for, or the rain, or the peasant, and what is the meaning of it, one can't say" Anton Chekhov

Allen Maertz likes to say that photography is simply an opinion. There is a bit of facetiousness in this statement in that it alludes to an equality of perception and of the ability to convey that perception to the viewer of a photograph. Photography may be an opinion, but we know, as does he, that some opinions are worth more of our attention than others. Maertz's evenhandedness towards his role as a photographer explains some of his interest in the viewers and tourists that he photographs. He gives them credit for having opinions, or for at least wanting to. Like the woman in Chekov's story who changed her opinions as the father and husband who influenced her life passed through it; and finally on her own, did not know what to think - we as witnesses of life often try to understand what it is we are seeing, try to form opinions, but this is achieved with varying degrees of success and stability. At times we may think we know or understand something, yet that same understanding may eventually change, just as science theory changes when new facts emerge. Also there is the reality that no one really understands fully. We look, we read the information and we sometimes just ponder and do not know what to think. Yet it is awful to have no opinion; we must look, see, learn and discuss in order to be a part of the life around us. If we do not have a point of view, then how can our lives have any effect? This willingness to ask questions and observe the considerations of others permeates the work. We see deep in the black back room of one photograph, a sea illuminated on a screen. In front of it dark figures of people move, and above them, half obscured by the innermost doorframe hangs the globe of the earth. More people, brightly lit now, spill out of the room's nearer doorframe. They are closer to us, yet none look toward us. Suspended in the space between them and the far entrance frame of the room we are viewing from is an older woman, silver and satellite-like, moving around a large model of the moon that rises on a shiny pole just inside our room. Metal tubing from some kind of rack close to the camera restrains us from entering, and a well-designed circle of light built into the floor separates us from the woman. We see the woman in the act of seeing. Elements of design on the part of both the photographer and the museum planners combine with elements of chance and human determination to create a play of sorts. A theater in which human witnesses observe and wonder and sometimes become actors in a drama greater than themselves.