If anyone might be worth sending to hunt down the selenite crystal cave in the Naica Mine in Chihuahua, Mexico it’s Kristoff Steinruck.
For a decade, between doing his bachelor of arts at UBC Vancouver and earning his master’s in fine art, Steinruck was a photographer working for publications like the Globe and Mail and MacLean’s Magazine.
“The best experience I had through photography was really just access,” he said.
Life behind the lens gave him the right to rub shoulders with people he might never have met and see aspects of life others don’t often get to experience.
His most interesting subjects usually weren’t famous; “…scientists and CEOs of big companies, that sort of thing.”
The career did get him a front row seat to Stephen Harper’s election to head of the Canadian Alliance in Toronto immediately before it merged with the Progressive Conservative Party.
And yet, even with that media pass on his side, he couldn’t get access to the cave he’s now replicated in the Kelowna Art Gallery.
When the half-billion-year-old crystals were first discovered 1000-feet down in a mine, the glassy gems went viral. Only scientists were granted access to see the formations, in part because the cave is uninhabitable.
National Geographic was able to make a film about their investigations and Steinruck, who had become fascinated by the digital snippets emailed to him by a friend, took in the work with the sceptical eye of one who sees the world through an alternate lens.
“The scientists do what they do, but they’re very limited. It’s specialized analysis trying to figure out how old the crystals are, whether there’s some proof of alien life. And they do this in a very invasive way by drilling holes in the crystals,” he said.
Steinruck has never been to the cave in the three years since he first saw those digital images. He watched a National Geographic documentary on the scientists’ work, however, and has since recreated the natural wonder in a project originally designed as a set for his own exploratory film on how we experience and treat the natural world in the era of information technology.
“I don’t think that we can answer questions about the crystals existence by drilling holes and pointing fancy scientific scopes or lasers at it,” he explained.
Steinruck will share his ruminations on the cave he ultimately built inside the Kelowna Art Gallery to explore the idea, Thursday evening (Sept. 13), 7 p.m. at the gallery. The talk is free and open to the public.