Andrew Beckham
Artist Statement

Firmament
One Square Mile
Twenty Thousand Square Miles
An Incalculable Distance

Firmament is an archaic word rich in meaning.  Its definition is twofold: an expanse both terrestrial and cosmological, referring to the dome of stars above as well as to the ground beneath our feet.  To be in both places at once, the earth and the heavens, is an idea steeped in theology and myth.  With one word, firmament challenges the dichotomy of sacred and profane that Judeo-Christian culture has struggled with for millennia. But firmament also opens the door for a contemplative response, even as it poses daunting questions about, to borrow from Gary Snyder, our “place in space.”

These have become my questions over the years: how do we find a meaningful place for ourselves in the world; how do we know where we fit?  Is my backyard any less important or difficult a place to pose these questions than the forest, the mountain, the windswept plain?  One square mile or one thousand, connecting with the intimacies of a particular geography takes time and patience and care.  Even so, our relationship with place is necessarily a relationship to scale.  Looking up with sure footing, how can I know with any certainty where our tiny planet is placed, orbiting our modest sun, as it moves with the spiral arms of the Milky Way, one galaxy among millions?

The Book of Job from the Old Testament offers some weighty perspective, as God probes Job about the nature of his place in the firmament: “Where is the road to light?  Where is the west wind released and the east wind sent down to earth?  Have you guided dawn to its place, to hold the corners of the sky and shake off the last few stars?  Have you seen the edge of the universe?”

Like Job, I have no answers.  It is only through the practice of photography that I am able to return to these questions again and again, with what I hope to be some measure of courage and imagination.  In so doing, my “place in space” may be illuminated just a little more clearly than it was before, even as the ineffable nature of the universe remains, as it was for Job, something to contemplate in awe and silence.

-Andrew Beckham

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