Our conception of wilderness, and its history, may seem, at first read beyond the purview of social constructs. We take nature and wilderness to be absolute givens, the opposite of society and civilization, existing out there beyond the many systems and constructs we’ve become hyper-aware of through post-modern philosophy. On the contrary, our relationship to, and definition of nature isn’t natural. Rather, it is the product of centuries of institutional influence.
Early Christian texts often used wilderness as a metaphor for evil. Through generations of translation what was originally a word for deserts (the Hebrew Midbar – a place without speech) became replaced by a word that suggests forests (Wildeorness – where the wild deer live). This slippage of language, coupled with the transformation of the psychological into the physical spelt the doom of many a sylvan ecosystem.
In the American South the mythology of pastoral place is still the predominate model, imbued with a palpably biblical flair. These photographs emanate from charged spaces, scenes of collisions – where wilderness is flowing back, where historical metaphors interface with economic realities, and where the paradoxes of our relationship to nature are ultimately exposed.
— Jimmy Fike, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
The contemporary landscape is detailed and intricate. It is divided into segments that are separately owned and diversely maintained. Through photography I am exploring these unique subsections that form this complex environment. I am observing and recording these characteristics to better understand the makeup of my surroundings.
I am interested in learning why particular locations are given such special attention. I am focusing on variations of land, which reveal an individual’s personal reflection of, and relationship to the environment. Their interconnection is conveyed through directly manipulating and placing objects within the landscape. Often, the attempt is to emulate an ideal natural world.
I am especially drawn to interactions that are distinct and whimsical. I view these spaces as types of sub-landscapes, which when assembled depict an eccentric man-made world. These images are my contemplation of artificial environments whose quirky intricacies describe the formation of the modern landscape.
— Daniel George, Savannah, Georgia, USA
This body of work, titled Evidence, examines the use of artificial light in our culture and how the use of this light reveals and conceals the landscape around us. The suburban and urban use of artificial light to eradicate darkness in public spaces impacts the manner in which we view the land, as well as the way in which we experience it. We, as a nation, are largely afraid of these spaces once night falls and they become abandoned. We recall horror stories; we are afraid to be alone. I photograph the spaces in order to bring them new life, and to bring attention to the fear and caution we experience around both lit and unlit urban spaces.
Working with a 4×5 camera allows me the flexibility of artistic choice, while still retaining a specificity and believability that other tools lack. This camera also allows me to spend an extraordinary amount of time with the spaces, teasing out their individuality and choosing what information to reveal and conceal within the space. Through these photographs, and this time spent, I want to help these spaces breathe again and help people rethink their relationship with the night.
— Sarah Pollman, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
My photographic work is on the Berlin-Brandenburg area, colloquially called “The Mark”. This mainly rural area is defined by unique socioeconomic transitions, set into motion with the reunification of Germany in 1989. This work is the documentation of atrophy
areas; landscapes of deceleration, molded by both structural alteration and the so called “luxury of emptiness”.
Exploring the region by bicycle, my perception is influenced by relatively slow locomotion. My photography follows a descriptive, documentary-style approach. The images are of moments, the quotidian details of sociocultural, economic and environmental shifts, stagnation and neglect.
As perception is inevitably a subjective, transformational process, it is the relationship between the discipline of documentary aspirations and my inescapable individual interpretation that informs my work.
— Rainer Sioda, Berlin, Germany
I took a series of photos, titled Point & Shoot @ 70 MPH, out of the passenger window while on a 6,000-mile road trip with my husband in the spring of 2010 from Missouri to California and back. I used a point-and-shoot camera deliberately to capture images in a very spontaneous way. Many times we passed so quickly (at 70 mph) that I missed shots, but other times I was able to anticipate and shoot before I really saw and was surprised by the captured image.
I was mesmerized by the changing landscape and, since this was April, we also encountered vast seasonal changes, from the dark gray sky and flat leafless plains of Nebraska, to snow closing the freeway in Wyoming. Once over the Donner Pass, the brilliant green of early spring in Northern California was almost blinding.
Upon return, I set about to sort through my 4,000 photos and pick those that best captured the feeling of motion and change. I took these base images and manipulated them to heighten the motion and the emotional attachment I have to this vast land.
— Ellen Jantzen, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
In Western Dioramas I am looking at how we have used, abused, forgotten and rediscovered the abundant space and limited resources of the American West. Continually people have looked at The West as a place for a new start despite so many having tried and failed before. These failures, which are usually not recycled but just abandoned because of the ample space, help show how the American Dream is being scaled down. Where once we erected grand enterprises of permanence to match our idea of The West, we now work on a smaller, cheaper scale.
After nearly two centuries of Manifest Destiny we are still leery of the overwhelming space available. People move to the wide-open West but tend to live in enclaves surrounded by fences, afraid of what might be lurking out there. A line is constantly drawn in the sand between in-here and out-there and between mine and yours. At best there is an uneasy truce along that line and both sides are a bit worse off for the meeting.
— William Rugen, Seattle, Washington, USA
I find a terrible beauty in the machinery of energy development. Over the last century the once vast, empty spaces of the America West have become laden with pipelines, pumps, tanks, towers, and (now), wind turbines and solar arrays. I say “terrible” because of the inherent conflict I find attached to the subject. For me, the machines, as objects, are beautiful feats of engineering and form. On the other hand, the continued encroachment and impact on the land driven by our society’s relentless consumption is harrowing.
What is undeniable is that these devices will undergo a gradual and inevitable deterioration. Over time the original forms, surfaces, textures, and colors of these engineering marvels are altered and degraded by the physical world. Mechanical systems break down, parts break and are discarded, pipelines rupture and are eventually abandoned in place. Decay is the order of the natural world. Ultimately, these energy converters will all arrive at the same state – energy junk, or Monuments to Entropy. But the scars on the land will remain.
So one is left asking: What have we traded away by basing economies on unyielding consumption? What more will we lose by covering deserts with solar panels and mountains, plains, and shorelines with wind turbines? What will the planet look like once it is entirely covered with energy devices? Will this change our collective aesthetic and the way we view Nature? What is the fate of the horizon?
— Kevin O’Connell, Denver, Colorado, USA
I create work that deals with the complexities, legacies, and myths surrounding history. My focus is documenting landscapes that have been altered by past events. Many of these historic sites have been desecrated by modern development, a byproduct of our neglect for our collective history.
These images, from the series An Independent Line, serve as a critique of Northern Virginia’s unchecked suburban sprawl, which has erased much of the area’s history. The subject of these photographs is the Manassas Gap Railroad line, which would have run from Gainesville to Alexandria but was left incomplete due to an economic downturn in the 1850s, similar to what we are experiencing today. Large sections of the 34-mile-long line survive; however, tract housing, shopping centers, and modern roads have decimated the majority of them.
— Devon Johnson, Fairfax, Virginia, USA
The 100 Abandoned Houses project documents one aspect of the remains of a city that has seen its population decline by more than half. At one point Detroit was home to almost 2 million residents, but its population has since fallen to just over 700,000.
Brush Park, once a wealthy enclave on the outskirts of Detroit’s entertainment district, was the area that first caught my attention, and where I first photographed abandoned mansions. For years faded signs had advertised the redevelopment that was about to take place. Around 2000, it finally began to happen, with new condos beginning to appear amidst the rubble of burned-out mansions turned apartments.
As Brush Park began to transform into something new, I realized the other approximately 135 square miles of Detroit was largely ignored. Excitement about Detroit’s “rebirth” took center stage, while much of the rest of the city was becoming largely abandoned. Even Brush Park itself was still largely abandoned, but with the remaining tenants of Brush Park’s buildings being pushed out, and many of the old houses torn down, I moved on to other areas, where Detroiters were attempting to make a life among urban ruins.
— Kevin Bauman, Denver, Colorado, USA
The images presented in No Place grew out of my interest in exploring the American landscape and the ways in which people alter it. When driving on photographic trips through the sprawling suburbs, I was struck by the amount of space given to large shopping centers and chain stores. I began asking myself, “Why do we need all these parking lots, fast food restaurants, and big box stores?”
These spaces force you to navigate them by car because of how spread out they are. Furthermore, a lot of these big box stores close or go out of business very fast, leaving vast vacant acres of asphalt and cavernous empty stores throughout our landscape. Once I began photographing these spaces I realized how much our landscape is changing.
Americans have undergone a paradigm shift in the places where we shop and dwell. We have traded in mom & pop stores and main street for big box stores and highways. Everything is fast, cheap, and easily available, like a fast food value meal. But like a value meal, what’s the true cost?
— John Lusis, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA