American photographer and publisher Mike Slack has released The Transverse Path (Nature’s Little Secret), a photo book that interweaves narratives from the U.S., Peru, and France in an aesthetic exploration of associations and surprise.
Shot between 2011 and 2017 across three countries, the visual content of The Transverse Path is vast, but not disparate. Small connections and coincidences link the images to one another: the bulging aqua insides of a plastic pipe are mirrored by the faded paint that curves around the edge of an old dug-out pool, water glittering from between marsh-grass finds its form mimicked in plastic strangled by dead plants. In Slack’s universe, nature appears to consume and reclaim everything that lays within it.
Speaking to us about the project, Slack explains: “The book evolved slowly over a few years. I was reading books about ecology and the nature of objects during this time — recent stuff by Timothy Morton and Ian Bogost, various older books (newly translated) by Vilém Flusser, and also re-reading Manuel De Landa’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, among other things — and those ideas influenced how and where I looked for pictures, and how I was editing them later. At some point, the phrase ‘The Transverse Path’ became a kind of code for the theme I was looking for — the notion of a (hidden) path or commonality between disparate qualities, a cosmic coherence — and set the tone for the book.”
The electronics, glass, dying plants and endless sky offer up questions and a strange sense calm to the reader. Is this a post-apocalyptic future we have entered, or something else entirely? Slack’s arrangement of photographs, and lack of text, give the book a non-linear narrative. “I prefer speculative readings. When I look around me, I don’t see isolated stories,” he continues. “I see an infinity of open-ended events and processes at every scale, reducible to the waves and particles of the light we can see. Narratives never quite explain it all. I know viewers will tend to ‘narrativize’ any sequence of images, but I’ve tried to leave the work open to various (maybe less linear) readings.”
The Transverse Path allows the mind to wend its own way through the series of photographs. Nearly entirely free of text, the book concludes with a single quote from the Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser: “Reality is a web of concrete relations. The entities of the environment are merely knots in this web, and we ourselves are knots of the same sort”. Of this quote, Slack says, “There’s a lot to unpack in that little epigraph, about what ‘the entities of the environment’ are, and where people fit into the scheme of things… It comes from Flusser’s fantastic little book about the vampire squid, but hopefully it echoes something in the pictures.” You can purchase The Transverse Path online here.