This body of work is an exploration of the rapidly-changing landscape of the American West, devastated by the depletion and manipulation of water and water rights. This work focuses on the engineered ruins of California: I aim to pose a series of questions about the sustainability of agricultural and population booms in the semi-arid state.
I shot the images that make up The Smell of Success / The Effects of Decay as 8×10 wet-plate ambrotypes, which is the same photographic process used by the post-Civil War photographers who traveled with government-sponsored surveys to document the then uninhabited West. Their 19th-century images created a sense of what could be tamed and owned in the American West. My photographs emulate my predecessors’ images, allowing the viewer a vantage point to contemplate how we as a society have managed resources in some of the most environmentally-fragile areas over the past century.
Buzzy Sullivan, Portland, Oregon, USA