No One Came to Meet Me (2013) reappraises the objectification and wonder in National Geographic articles published between 1924 and 1935 by the ethnographer, botanist and photographer Joseph Francis Rock
"No one came to meet me" was a driving anxiety for J. F. Rock as he made his way across the borderlands of Tibet and China. Hoping to be mistaken for a foreign prince, he made sure his entourage carried him into any new village or town. The botanical legacy from his excursions includes extensive seed specimens at the Harvard Arboretum. But it was his (almost secondary) documentation of tribes and local Buddhist rituals in this region, as well as the description of a foreign landscape of snow-spiked peaks, high plateaus and wide rivers, that stimulated the Western imagination (and is said to have inspired to the book “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton and ultimately to have spawned the modern myth of Shangri-La).
I first encountered J.F. Rock when I stumbled across a stack of his National Geographic articles at my parent’s house over a decade ago. It turned out they had been collecting them. My parents are part of the first generation of Western Tibetan Buddhist practioners, their teacher grew up in Kham, one of the regions in Tibet that J.F. Rock documented. Reading through those articles for the first time I felt that peculiar mix of fascination and nausea that comes with seeing a representation of something that was personal, now transmogrified into an object seen through another’s lens.
Using Joseph Rock’s photographs from 1924/ 25 as a starting place, these hybrid collages and prints draw on the genre of the ethnographic catalogue in order to postulate a series of new “objects” of encounter.