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These fantastical images celebrate the natural order of the earth

Nature is our greatest teacher, providing ample evidence of the wisdom of the earth, the cycles of life and death ever flowing from one into the next. It is here in nature that we learn the truth: the beauty and power of the sublime, the ineffable, unspeakable grandeur that existence inspires.

But with the words written in Genesis 1:26, the world has lost its way, for the very idea that we have dominion over what does not belong to us is a sin of the worst kind. We are stewards and our role is to preserve and conserve so that nature continues to provide abundance, rather than wipe us off the earth as payback for the abuses of greed, gluttony, wrath, sloth and pride that have wrought the horrors of climate change to our doorstep.

The further we remove ourselves from nature, stashed indoors and stuck behind screens, in a state of constant consumption, always needing more and never satisfied, the more perilous the payback will be, according to Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Yet it is entirely too easy to forget, to lose ourselves in the conveniences and conventions of the postmodern world, to presume that there are no consequences for our choices just because we cannot see them yet. We can rationalize the irrational until such a day the center can no longer hold, and the weight of our delusions shall break the dam, a deluge of glacial proportions.

The tipping point passed us by a long time ago, and now we are left to consider the stark reality of what the future holds. Perhaps this is a sign and a call, to look to nature to learn the secrets of what the cycle of life and death bestows. It is a thought that occurs like an elegiac refrain throughout the work of photographer Tanya Marcuse in her stunning trilogy Fruitless|Fallen|Woven (Radius Books).

Here, in these sleek volumes of voluptuous delight, are a series of photographs that reimagine the landscape of Eden, humanity’s subsequent fall from grace, and the mysterious beauty of that which happens after death. “Tanya Marcuse’s photographs function like cabinets of wonders,” writes Francine Prose in an accompanying essay.

“We look and keep looking at the marvels of nature, observed by the eye of the artist, arranged by the artist’s hand to accelerate the education that nature is trying so hard and so patiently to give us.”

Nature’s great patience lies in the fact that it is greater than the life it bears, and it knows death better than anyone or anything else. Marcuse’s photographs are a poignant reminder how presumptuous we may be, how much we think we know based on the indoctrination offered through science, religion, politics, or whatever form of indoctrination most pleases our conscious mind. But in Marcuse’s photographs, we are reminded that the cycle of life and death is something more primal and more visceral than mere words can convey; it is the thing words desperately seek to grasp and yet never can quite say.

Marcuse’s photographs are transmissions of nature — elegant, eloquent metaphors for the great unknowable force that brings things into existence then returns them to their source. They are the kind of image you may gaze upon with wonder, forgetting you are looking at a photograph, such as the feeling of being transported into another realm is so overwhelming they become icons of a sort. Here, Marcus does what the best art can do: leave us breathless, overwhelmed with a sense of wonder, able to perceive the unknown and feeling a tremendous sense of comfort in not needing to explain what that even means.

All images: © Tanya Marcuse, courtesy of Radius Books. Conceptual catalogue of fruit trees photographed over a 4 year period in the Hudson Valley, NY by artist, Tanya Marcuse. Many of the trees grow on land that is for sale and in danger of development.

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