In the Encyclopedia project, I focus on political and cultural influences that construct modern perceptions of knowledge and experience.

My starting point is the compilation by Diderot & d'Alembert, Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Craft, first published in 1751 as part of the Enlightenment movement.


Commentary on Encyclopedia, 09.16.2014

With Encyclopedia Allen Maertz challenges us to look at ourselves objectively (but leavened frequently with humor), by looking with him at the wide variety of exhibits we mount (selected by committee) in various museums and other mediated spaces. These exhibits, charged with the somewhat ironic function of showing us ourselves, are tremendously diverse, but contain as a composite whole the sub-textual message "this is who and what we think we are". Maertz approaches these spaces with an eye for the slightly absurd, giving us a scatter-plot overview, if you will, of just how naive, and even narrow, that view can be.

But Maertz's images are also poetic, leading us through the visual happenstances and juxtapositions that resonate with beauty and the life-affirming meanings we derive from beauty. The exhibits Maertz is so fascinated with are largely on the topics of natural history and science, but Maertz unerringly finds more there, as if the collective self-image on display is only a thin veneer hiding a diverse variety of unintended truths, each, perhaps, deeper than those meanings the various exhibits intend to convey to us.

I am struck, as I view Encyclopedia, with the lyricism of the whole, and the experience of visual music it resonates so strongly with. And to me this is the main strength of this body of work, but made whole and functional with the complexities that give it the depth that can be returned to over and over, each time revealing new layers, new meanings, and new lyrical delights.


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.