ClearCut – The Wages of Dominion – A Beautiful & Terrible Book

My friend John Riggs just published ClearCut – The Wages of Dominion, a book that is both beautiful and terrible – it documents, bears witness to, clear cutting in the Northwest United States. John is facing the same problem that a lot of writers and artists are facing now – how to promote your work during a pandemic when you cannot go out and meet and speak with people. Consider buying his book to support the important work he is doing and his witnessing for the Earth.

John, a photographer by trade, starts the book with a guided meditation, guiding us through an invitation to enter into our complicity, then looking for a way forward, searching for the pathways of making things right, through forgiveness and then to the choice. John’s exhibition prior to ClearCut – The Wages of Dominion, was Entering Old Growth – Meditations from the Ancient Rain Forest of the Pacific Northwest. While most of the images in ClearCut are stark, black & white photos of forests that are reminiscent of World War I trenches, the aftermaths of battlefields, or tragic natural disasters, he reminds us of hope, now and again, like the growth that occurs on stumps, by including for contrast some of his color photos from his previous exhibition.

I can relate to John’s journey through the beauty of the forest only to feel one’s soul has fled one’s body upon stumbling across clearcut forest. When I graduated from college, I received a backpack as a graduation gift, bought a Greyhound Bus ticket from Chicago to Seattle, and spent 2 weeks solo backpacking through some of the land that John documents. I entered the forest at Sol Duc, hiked up over the ridge, and walked down toward highway 101, planning to go up to Forks and out to the coast. As I came out of the National Park and into the National Forest, I had to walk through miles of clearcut forest and it was inconceivable to me how anyone could use the forest in this manner. I won’t even try to put it into words – in fact, there is no need to, just look at John’s photos and you will feel it.

John is a poet and a healer as well as a photographer. He guides us through a meditation on who we are and how society is the way it is, and how we destroy ancient forests for our convenience and economic growth. To sit and bear witness with the destruction of a clearcut forest is to hear a message.

“In this vast and sudden transition moment there is a message coming our way. It is not my message; it is our loving mother, the living planet Gaia speaking. Speaking directly to us, speaking through many stern voices today, in many languages, shaking us all to wake up. They are all saying the same thing: ‘despair is the enemy, not others.'”

There is a terrible beauty in the book, but it is also a book about destruction and the selfishness that arises when we believe that the world is a thing for us to use and abuse at our whims. The mindset of separation and dualism, of us and them, naturally, or perhaps we could say unnaturally, leads to conflict, strife, destruction, and war – war between humans, but also the war of humans against nature. This mindset of separation is what allows us to treat other people as “things” and to treat the natural world without love and caring.

“ClearCut is an apt metaphor for our current human condition, and this exhibition is a guided meditation, a journey through despair to recognition and acceptance of our personal complicity in the fatal human character flaw of dominion. We pay a brief visit to the waystation of guilt and blame, and then on to the discovery of an urgent message our mother Gaia has been trying to deliver to us for generations: that the evolution of human consciousness must continue beyond dominion into communion if She – if we – are to continue receiving the gift of life and passing that gift along to our children and grandchildren.”

John Riggs, Photo by Ed Nelson

John is a hero as well as a photographer, a documenter, a witness, a poet, and a healer. In Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, the hero ventures off into an unknown world – for John that was into the beauty of the ancient rain forest – but he found an abyss there, a dark night of the soul, the clearcut destruction. Campbell taught that as the hero or heroine returns from their journey, back into society, they find that the wisdom of their message is rejected by society. Will we reject John’s message he is bringing us from Gaia, our Mother Earth – or will we go through the stages he outlines, through guilt, grief, atonement and reparations so that we can make a choice to follow the path of making things right?

ClearCut – The Wages of Dominion challenges us, shows us the end result of our separation mindset and invites us to move from dominion to communion.

You can visit the exhibition online at John’s website: Tamarack Studio & Gallery tamarackgallerymadison.com and the guided meditation video on YouTube.

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