A Symphony of Howls

by Gabriela Bulisova and Mark Isaac

According to Wikipedia, “Gray wolves howl to assemble the pack…pass on an alarm…to locate each other during a storm or unfamiliar territory and to communicate across great distances.” Are we not in a great storm, crossing unfamiliar territory, facing innumerable threats? Shouldn’t we follow the example of the wolves – and howl? 

This post marks the advent of our new website – a place that embraces the howl. We will be “yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,” as Allen Ginsberg put it. We’ll provoke brainstorming and help to spark what’s so urgently needed in the present moment: a viable and inspiring movement. 

It goes without saying that we face challenges that are beyond our imaginations even a few years ago. Politics around the world are dominated by right-wing nationalism and populism, and democracy is being diminished and existentially threatened almost everywhere we look. At the same time, rapidly accelerating climate and pollution crises contain not a small brush fire but the raging conflagration of our destruction. 

In the face of these acute dangers and aggressions, we often feel the urge to look away. But if instead we each choose to do our own small part that we know is a contribution (even if it means just helping others deal with the pain of it all), then somehow we can piece together not just “a thousand points of light,” to reference a U.S. Republican president from an era that is now out of reach, but more than that: a constellation of connected people who envision a better future and act to bring it about. (An apt metaphor since some Native Americans considered the Milky Way to be a wolf trail.)

We have no delusions of grandeur that our new website will somehow engender a shift in the body politic or the culture meaningful enough to save the day. But we do intend to reach out to others meaningfully, howling in the darkness and standing up for the idea that even if we are quickly sinking into a large and fetid rathole, there is some beauty in the wails of protest.

This website collects our joint and individual work together for the first time. It’s simultaneously an overdue celebration of our longtime collaboration and an acknowledgement of our individual interests and projects, all of which are focused on socially conscious topics. 

The website starts with Featured Projects. There you’ll find three projects that are still in motion – and are using a lot of our physical and emotional energy right now:

  • Baikal Lenses – the in-depth project we created as Fulbright Scholars in Eastern Siberia about the impact of climate change on the world’s oldest, deepest and most voluminous lake; 
  • The Shadow of Smoke – our intimate, more than decade-long effort to portray Gabriela’s family and the tiny village they live in along the banks of the Danube at the Slovak-Hungarian border; and
  • The Vanishing – a visually rich new project presenting photographs from cemeteries around the world. Intended to honor the deceased, these images now serve as a reminder that we will all fade from memory.

We’ve organized the rest of our joint work into three key interests:  1) Environment; 2) Incarceration, and 3) Diversity, Refugees and Borderlands), topics that have also consumed us for years and years. But please don’t stop with the Featured Projects or even the Joint Projects. The work that we’ve both created individually is also gathered here – Gabriela Solo and Mark Solo – on subjects as diverse as international conflicts, refugee and environmental crises, and our overwhelming reliance on electronic media. 

It’s all organized, but hopefully not to a fault. Wolves are wild, and we want to leap, twist, moan, and surprise. It’s fair to say that today’s public space is biased toward pigeon-holing artists, and we want this website to be a place that fights that discrimination. True, we were first photographers, but we’re emphatically not just that. Our practice has grown to include extensive writing, short films, original music derived from scientific data, installations, and more. Also, we’re not just documentarians. Many of our projects blur the lines between documentary and fine art practice – or just don’t fit into easy categories. We are surprising ourselves – and we hope to surprise you as well.

It’s not always easy to know what to do to be effective. It may be that the search for the right way to contribute is the defining challenge of our time. But we can howl; we can hear the howls of others; and there will be some recognizable allure and accomplishment in creating a symphony of howls, however imperfect, before the night is through.

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