THE CORMORANTS, AND EVERYONE ELSE
Installation in the Elizabeth Catlett Print Staging Space, University of Iowa, 2015
I have never seen a colony of cormorants first hand, but in the yellowed pages of the Time-Life Nature Library in a book titled THE BIRDS, a volume just after THE FISHES and before THE MAMMALS. The 1963 series is encyclopedic in scope, with twenty five books covering such subjects as EARLY MAN, PRIMATES and most ambitiously, THE UNIVERSE, as if the books could contain all of our world with some degree of certainty. Though they were once meant to bring the far reaches of the planet into the lap of the reader, the Time-Life cormorants of these grainy photographs and heavily inked pages now seem ever more distant: inhabitants of a place the reader may never go, in an edition that is now out of print.
Titled, THE RIGORS AND REWARDS OF A CROWDED LIFE, the Time-Life caption for one particular image of the birds may be alternately read as a description of the competition between human and cormorant populations perpetually at odds with one another. As superb hunters, cormorants have long been the bane of fishermen due to their incredible appetites and dense populations. Consequently they appear in the Western bestiary as the very embodiment of greed, gluttony, and at times, the devil himself. Their greed, however, can only be defined in relation to our own appetite; they are greedy only because we would like a bite of the same fish.
THE CORMORANTS, AND EVERYONE ELSE is a my own title for the next volume in this series, a sequel that imagines how the Time-Life photographs may appear in the present era. It describes a landscape where THE RIGORS AND REWARDS OF A CROWDED life no longer evokes the eternity of Darwinian struggle but the suspense of our present moment, between ethical situation and certain catastrophe. The sea rises to still the same horizon; with it, THE CORMORANTS, AND EVERYONE ELSE.