This project surveys the material presence of empty billboards and considers their capacity to comment on the environments that surround them.
For the last few years I have taken notice of and been actively searching for very clean, very white billboards, the kind that seem to present nothing but their own monumental physicality. Without the company of an advertisement to distract us, each billboard becomes an ambiguous fixture within the built environment, possibly indicative of economic and social collapse, but equally reminiscent of the potential dramas available to movie screens and unpainted canvases.
Above all, the project continues to serve as a visual response to the bewilderment in and confrontation of an object’s recovered material reality. It is only through the manifest blankness of each billboard that we encounter it — and possibly for the first time — as a physical object cast into landscapes of arguably equal emptiness.
— Sherwin Rivera Tibayan, Norman, Oklahoma, USA
When I first came to the United States five years ago, my first impression was that everything in America is bigger, such as big trucks and huge shopping centers. Slowly, during the course of the five years, I realized that there is a link between “big” and abundant resources. As if “big” is the consequence of excessive needs, and excessive needs are supported and encouraged by abundant resources. China is also big in a lot of ways, but we still sell pencils in ones instead of dozens.
I decided to photograph the abandoned. My work represents “big” in an indirect way. In a society with abundant resources, we easily lose ourselves in materialistic items when there are too many choices or too frequent updates. We are no longer satisfied with getting the things that we need, but are rather obsessed with getting better and newer things; we are trapped in the process of updating instead of enjoying what we have in our hands. In an era when the speed of the aging of an object can no longer catch up with the speed of our boredom with the object, abandonment seems to be the only way out for this object.
— QiYuan Li, Pasadena, California, USA
Shiftless is a two-year photographic work in the places around the unused nuclear plant of Garigliano in Italy, which takes its name from the important river running along before going all the way to the sea. Closed for maintenance in 1982, the plant doesn’t show on maps because it turned out to be “unauthorized,” since it was built on agricultural land.
Now it contains 3,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste inside concrete blocks, some of them stacked underground in plastic bags. The nuclear presence is in everything, in the empty houses, in the vegetation, in the carcasses lying in the fields, in the water and in those barely-visible human life efforts.
The atmosphere is of a nuclearized, deserted place, witness of a past which, as invisible as the plant, lingers in the present. Staring at the broken caravan windows, the withered palms, the swinging neon lights from the knocked down walls, gives you a sense of inertia, of shiftlessness.
A beautiful land full of potential, victim of man’s carelessness. The river gets into the sea, the waves retracting show on the shore an impressive mass of wastes of various kinds. They are symbols that “nature always gives back what it received.”
— Raffaele Capasso & Francesco Claudio Cipolletta, Naples, Italy
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