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April 22, 2014

On Meditation: Peter Matthiessen

An Intimate Portrait of the Late American Writer and Spirited Adventurer

The explorer, environmentalist and treasured author Peter Matthiessen was the first on filmmaker Rebecca Dreyfus’ wish list to feature in On Meditation, a series of personal shorts exploring the subject alongside other notable deep-thought practitioners including David Lynch. Matthiessen passed away earlier this month, leaving behind the legacy of a large life as a one-time CIA employee turned co-founder of The Paris Review. He will be remembered most as the author of the cherished natural-world travelogue The Snow Leopard, which was awarded two National Book Awards in the US. Below, Dreyfus recollects her time with Matthiessen for NOWNESS.

It’s inspiring to see someone who treated life as a relentless search for new places and ideas, with a general hunger for meaning. Few have lives that include that much adventure. I’ve met a lot of very accomplished people but Peter really lived beautifully.

I don’t think you can separate his life from his writing. He stood up for what he believed in. Whether it was for American-Indian people or animals or his very last novel In Paradise that takes place at a meditation retreat at Auschwitz, he never stopped thinking about the bigger picture.

Peter once said to me: “You can have meaning or you can have rest but you can’t have both.” I’m still trying to figure that out.

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Valley Guy

Alec Soth Captures a Rare Glimpse of Los Altos’ Invisible Gold Rush

From Google to Hewlett Packard, photographer Alec Soth sets his sights on Silicon Valley and the businesses synonymous with it—right down to a local computer repair store. Throughout his time in the global technology center, the photographer acted upon the same enquiring impulse: “It’s mythical, but what is it? What’s the silicon? What’s the boundary of it? It’s like a fantasy place in some ways.” Yet what he found was decidedly less unusual than he expected. “It felt like a normal American place,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I had somehow crossed some line to Silicon Valley, with robots moving around.” The pictures form part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's offsite exhibition Project Los Altos, that also includes artists Mike Mills, Spencer Finch, Chris Johanson and Jessica Stockholder, and include the black-and-white photograph of the garage within which Google first started. Visiting the internet giant's headquarters made a particular impression on Soth. “It was like entering a nation within a nation—I felt like I should show my passport,” he adds. “To me, Google is both funny and scary. There is something innocent about it—the front page has this childlike quality—but it’s so incredibly powerful.”

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Estelle Hanania: Glacial Jubilé

The Parisian Photographer Roams Europe’s Primitive Corners

The chimerical figures and bestial masks of rural Bulgaria, and remote caves of Northern France and Italy, form the adventurous backdrop to this series by photographer Estelle Hanania, taken from her forthcoming monograph Glacial Jubilé. “Europe is a perfectly non-exotic background to document these traditions,” says Hanania, who embarked on the series after coming across a folk art exhibition in Paris. “They transport you to a surreal dimension, but I like the fact that they happen in very common places.” Taken over the course of five years in more than six countries, and on breaks between commissions for the likes of Opening Ceremony, Maison Martin Margiela and Issey Miyake, the photographs shed light on the lesser-known rituals of local communities: the winter festivals of the Appenzell region of Switzerland and traditional customs of the Basque Country. Known for her sun-faded, incidental approach to photography that embraces the natural world, Hanania was the recipient of the photo prize at the 2006 Hyères Festival. “I hope to immerse people in a particular atmosphere,” she adds. “When fantasy slips into reality.”

Glacial Jubilé is published October 4, 2013.

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