By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter
Michael Dinkel, of Soldotna, began photographing spawned salmon along the banks of the Kenai River in the 1990s using a 35-mm camera with black-and-white Kodak film. I first met Dinkel in the darkroom at Kenai Peninsula College, where he was meticulously perfecting the rich tonal quality of his salmon images back in 1998. When I recently again saw his spawned salmon images on Facebook, I was very interested to learn of the new direction he was taking with his work, and how he is combining his two-dimensional artwork with his more recent passion for writing.
Dinkel’s current work is a mail art project entitled, “A Shortened History of Alaska,” which combines a selection of images from his 20-plus years of black-and-white salmon photographs with his writing.
The mail art movement can be roughly traced back to 1915 when Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaist artists began sending each other artwork through the mail as an act of defiance against the established art venues, and as a statement that art was about the work and not defined by how or where it was presented. Later, the Fluxus artists embraced mail art in their theory of challenging the aesthetic assumptions of what art is and what art should be.
Mail art will sometimes consist of a small collection of artwork, sent directly to the viewer, thereby developing a direct connection between the artist and viewer. Mail art was also influenced by the conceptual artists who believed art was in the idea, not necessarily the object. Conceptual artists also used mail art to stimulate ideas amongst each other, ideas that sometimes addressed social justice or political issues.
“A Shortened History of Alaska” consists of several 5-by-7-inch copies of Dinkel’s black-and-white spawned salmon images, along with an essay written by Dinkel. The essay is a heartfelt appeal to protect the waters of Bristol Bay watershed from the potential development of Pebble Mine.
“I’m concerned that the average person doesn’t have a voice anymore. Politicians are bought and influenced by the industry lobbyists and I feel helpless up against all that money,” Dinkel said.
He explains that he spent 10 years commercial fishing in Igiugig and Naknek and feels that the value of the fishing resource and the natural beauty of the environment need to be protected against what he fears will be the destruction of the resource and the environment that sustains that resource by a large-scale mining operation like the one being proposed by Pebble Mine. Dinkel adds that his wife, Karen, was born in Dillingham, and that they have many close family members still living and working in the region who depend on the land and the fish.
He made 60 copies of his mail art project and sent 15 to elected officials that he identified as being individuals elected to represent him, including local Kenai Peninsula Borough officials, senators and congressman, as well as the secretary of the Interior, the vice president and the president of the United States. Dinkel says he might receive a few form letters back in response to his project from staffers on behalf of the elected officials, but does not expect to anything too significant.
Dinkel sent the remaining 45 copies of his project to fellow artists and invited them to use their voice and skills to create more work. Dinkel says he hopes that somewhere in this chain reaction something might get sparked that will lead to a hopeful change.
In his essay, “Part II,” Dinkel says, “Maybe it is time to let poetry and art do what it is meant to do. We might discover ideas that could give us a chance. Somewhere there is a thought that can help, or one poem, one drawing, one real thing. What I’m asking you to do is something like this, go out to your place, and try to think. Go to your mountain and lie down in the lichen, or stand in your ling grass meadow next to the wild plum orchard. Maybe it is a beach with storm kelp strewn at the high water line and broken driftwood logs to sit on, but go there for a time and sit or lie down and imagine. Let that place tell you what to do, find out the reason you chose that place.”
To read more of Dinkel’s writing and to view more of his images, check him out on Facebook or visit his blog at http://michaeldinkel.com/shortened-history-of-alaska-3/.
Natasha Ala is a contributing writer and local art champion who lives in Soldotna.