This spring I visited and spent a number of days and nights in the world’s largest cave, in the jungle mountains of central Vietnam. Fewer people have been to the cave than have been into space. This was a journey of 6,000 miles to the other side of the world, and an arduous trek through the jungle, down precipices, and across narrow and high bridges in the darkness with water gurgling far below.
For me, the appeal of visiting the world’s largest cave was less to do with the “cavey things”, or even the varied landscapes and portals of the cave, and more to do with where one begins to see the light. In other words, this was a spiritual quest as all journeys are, or should be.
A core component of my quest was to peer into darkness and distinguish the void from the light, to attempt to examine this darkness and light in the context of the basic structure of photography, which is also about darkness and light.
Stalactites, stalagmites, and other geological wonders of the speleology are fine in their place. This is a landscape that is quite difficult to photograph traditionally in the absolute darkness of the void, and in the absence of logical markers of scale that we see in a more normal landscape. A challenge is always intriguing, but difficulties aside, the speleological features don’t interest me photographically.
What does appeal to me is the cave as metaphor, and metaphorical experience. From darkness we are born, sometimes easily and sometimes with difficulty, and emerge from the cave naked into the light.
We struggle towards the light, and live with what we see in the shadows. At the other end another dark tunnel awaits, with who-knows-what on the other side.
This is the story of our lives—with love, passion, and our journey from darkness to light. In the end, this reverses and we return to the void. At its best, a compelling image can help put us in touch with a piece of this journey. Always we must wonder: are we looking at reality, whatever that may be, or at a pale shadow, flickering on the walls of our cave?