Transfigured Landscapes 1987-1990
The Transfigured Landscape: Anthropocene Epoch
The most basic political element in viewing the landscape is the boundary — the defined territory composed of farms, public spaces, communities, etc. It is a composition of spaces — it is also a composition or web of boundaries — therefore political. Those boundaries exist in the defined locations of these sometimes toxic landscape spaces made up of grids and blocks of space. They are seen as “earth as museum with excavations as exhibits,” according to art historian Gretchen Fox, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Just as “Roman ruins were visited and depicted as a “museum without walls” of the antique classical past, while immense landforms of the West could be seen as vast museums of paleontology” according to Fox. So too are the topographical views of the modern landscape.
In “Transfigured Landscapes,” my concern is to articulate the formal aesthetic elements that exist in the way the industrial landscape appears. And, suggests the value of further inquiry into the relationship of man and his work environment. The photographs reveal a certain dichotomy between what was once natural and an altered or transfigured factual landscape spoiled by excavation, and ultimate destruction. The pictures, at times, contrast what is also evidence of various machinery, vehicles or man-made tools or objects used within the environment and their own individual form as a kind of beauty against the immediate foreground or background within the composition. At times, I am drawn to the ambiguity of foreground and background scale and depth.
These modern landscape images can be viewed either from the standpoint of the political repercussions that exist within it. Or, one can experience the beauty within it depending on one’s own set of political principles or beliefs. The images are not necessarily interpretations or personal statements or attitude about positive or negative change in the land, pernicious or otherwise. But, in some ways are seen as a kind of metaphor calling attention to the ways in which the landscape serves man’s best interests. And, in some similar way, how the land can be observed and utilized by man as it was in the mid to late 19th century as depictions made by photographers like Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan. At that time, they were sometimes made for the sake of dramatic artistic exploitation mainly for the middle class. I think of my images as not only dramatic, but in serving modern day viewer interests because of the social and political concerns over the loss of once natural spaces and potential harm, that now serve business interests primarily irrespective of the physical damage excavation causes. As a consequence, climate is affected by pollution of not just the land, but in some cases the climate is affected, as well.
In the early generations of landscape work about the 1840’s, the practice was almost completely dependent on the pictorial conventions of the genre. In Watkins’ works of technical perfection he views his job as the fixing or recording of an evanescent reflection of physical reality — the picturesque and sublime modes of landscape depiction. In the 1870’s, Clarence King and George Wheeler directed teams to survey the geology and geography of the American West and mapped out “hostile”regions to establish forts and supply bases for the protection of incoming settlers and prospectors. O’Sullivan’s work was not particularly useful for measurement of land and were not scientifically accurate.
His job was to provide “generally descriptive” photographs of the places he visited which King stated “to“ give a sense of the area,” but which were not used as evidence for the findings in the reports of the scientific team. Aesthetically, they are awe inspiring deep stares into landscapes that are unmarked, unmeasured and wild, places in which man was not yet the measure of all things.
In my body of work — The Transfigured Landscape — my photographs were made as a fusion of both a general pictorial interest of time and place, and an observation of the physical characteristics of space, scale and form. What is, in fact, political about them is the the sinister and destructive nature of the way the land is used, the toxicity left behind after use, and the colonization by capitalist industries of natural resources to begin with. Watkins, O’Sullivan and others’ images were glimpse’s into the pre-industrialization of once magnificent natural places and environments. And in my time, more than a hundred years later, the opposite of that are the effects of modern day industrialization of the land as illustrated in my Transfigured Landscapes.
Represented here are some of the primary photographs from a larger body of work.