As illustrated in the article, John often wonders what the first explorers thought of the American landscape prior to widespread settlement and industrialization.
I’m not alone in this fantasy, of course. The imaginary encounter with wilderness is central to the American conception of landscape, and particularly to the traditions of landscape painting and photography. In the work presented here, photographers John Mann and Drew Nikonowicz play with these deep cultural fantasies about exploration and expedition.
His series Pack Ice uses common materials and low-tech illusions to conjure the wonder of an arctic expedition. Sometimes his methods are literal: a tiny toy telescope and model plane wing are easily scaled up by the mind. Other times he plays the magician: crumpled paper on the floor becomes a snowy island in the middle of a dark sea; black paper pricked with holes is a clear, starry sky. In the series Drift, Mann prints photographic negatives which transform small, dark rocks into towering, luminescent icebergs. The images force us to hold in our minds both what we actually see — a piece of paper, an unremarkable stone — and what we want to see — the beautiful peril of the arctic wilderness.