I have always romanticized the European landscape. The books of my childhood were often set a world away, in forests of oak and birch. My forays into the environment around me were guided by these stories, influencing the plants and animals that captured my imagination. Whereas my interest in native flora and fauna was mostly scientific, I found creatures such as foxes and deer almost mythical and the woodlands of Europe fantastical.
This nostalgia for the English countryside also accompanied the colonial settlement of South East Australia and shaped its widespread transformation — the most important result of which was the introduction of a plethora of exotic species. The Australian landscape is an introduced one. Human influence on our environment runs deep. By acknowledging our involvement, we can better come to understand our place in the natural world.
– Murray Watson, Canberra, Australia
When I first traveled to Dubai I witnessed a city growing uncontrollably out of the desert. Construction sites lined with busses packed full of workers dotted the landscape in every direction. New buildings appeared by the hour. Roads detoured endlessly to make way for man-made lakes and islands. Hundreds of transmission towers suppling power to the metropolis’ increasing energy consumption appeared in the barren areas surrounding the city. I returned a few years later to a much different place. The economic collapse left an unfinished city stuck in the desert. I went throughout the city with a 4×5 camera to photograph the urban landscape that currently occupies a massive expanse of land. Development in many areas has slowed down considerably or even stopped completely, awaiting the funds necessary to complete projects. Buildings remain empty without any occupants in the city core. Pre-built neighborhoods devoid of residents resemble ghost towns. Outlying areas already master planned give the appearance of mirages in the distance. This apparent stagnation clashes with the expectations of the past and the realizations of the future. It’s a transitional period in a city without boundaries. I titled the project Unfinished City.
– Ryan Debolski, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Man’s relationship with the alpine environment continues to provide the principal theme to this ongoing body of work, titled The New Wilderness. But unlike Crowded Slopes, in which I look more at man’s need to control and dominate, here I am focussed on our ultimate insignificance and vulnerability in the face of the natural world. In this way, I am more directly inspired by the Romantic tradition through examination of that which remains of the experience of silence and solitude, feelings that are implicit in large areas of empty space, and our small human presence in the mystical of the landscape.
Unlike the work of the German Romantics and American 19th-century artists and writers however, these images seek to document more contemporary concerns for the environment and the traces we leave.
– Dede Johnston, London
Two of these pictures were taken in the North of France during a residency in 2010. The one with the carpets was taken in Sicily.
At first I wondered how to take pictures in a northern country, as I was used to travel around Mediterranean countries, with their familiar landscapes and light. But I realized that I was ready to receive any landscape and any people who have an affinity to my sense of watching the world.
The pictoriality of the images, the intense light, the colors and the frame were possible anywhere. So I feel free now to realize photographic works all around the world. The staged photography I used to organize has changed. Now I prefer to let events happen in front of me. Architectures, bodies, nature and animals all create a poetic universe expressing my desire to show the fact that everything is in construction and destruction every day. And people organize these sites in a very high level of theatrical manner. I’m interested in the way it all appears.
– Florence Chevallier, Paris, France
Fifty years ago this strip of land in southern France — flanked by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and a vast lagoon on the other — was barren and wild. In 1962 the population of the main town, Port Barcares, was 775. Today it is approximately 4,000 – climbing to 80,000 during the peak of summer.
The Mission Racine, a project initiated by President General de Gaulle in 1963, aimed to turn the Languedoc-Roussillon coastline into a series of resorts and offer an alternative source of income for the region.The original vision behind the project was ahead of its time and featured ambitious and unusual urban planning. At the centre of the design was a unique and ambitious plan to permanently ground a cruise liner, La Lydia, and convert it into a hotel.
Although some of the promise of the original vision has lost its shine and the modern architecture now appears dated, the central values, particularly the idea of offering affordable summer holidays for the average citizen, remain key to how the area is managed.
– Shane Lynam, Dublin, Ireland
At Passages, a dream set in the United States, investigates the pre-conscious human relationship to the landscape, as well as the evolution of the Romantic sublime, now a memory, transformed beyond recognition. Investigating the tension between the collective memory of the terrifying Romantic sublime, the sense of possibility in late 19th-century landscape photography, and the displaced sublime of America today, the work looks at those passages between the observer and the landscape-subject that open new sanctuaries, that stand in opposition to our previous ones. In exploring the balance between memory and the reconfigured sublime — the dialectic between the residual landscape of memory and the actual landscape — At Passages interrogates American mythologies of landscape, and conceives new pathways, with reimagined sacred spaces. In this crisis period of human history, our relationship with the landscape is at a crossroads which traverses the social, cultural, and political. Therefore, the work strives to portray landscape in an atypical way, with invented stories, new myths, about America in the 21st century. Through those reinvented mythologies and exposed idiosyncrasies, the work invites dialogue about the environments, the landscapes, that surround us. At Passages explores nature’s becoming, our society’s transformation of it, its passage from a relatively pristine state of apprehension into a more complex and problematic one.
– Sarah Palmer, Brooklyn, New York, USA
I believe there is latent beauty in the concept of suburbia. It is how we’ve nurtured the proliferation of suburban sprawl and what that says about our national character, that I have looked at in my work. When I started American Palimpsests in 2003, the residential development industry was expanding at record speed. This growth was essentially erasing the natural habitat: green grass was being planted over dry desert soil, earth was being excavated to make way for artificial lakes, and housing tracts were wiping away acres of wilderness. Simultaneously, once-vibrant, established neighborhoods were being left forsaken. I saw this rapid change as defining the “American Palimpsest”: throughout the United States’ history, Americans have repeatedly rewritten the land to create an idealized notion of nature and habitat.
Many of the new communities I photographed for this project emptied amid the first bust of the new millennium, leaving behind incomplete developments and heavily altered landscapes. American Palimpsests | This Was What There Was is a photographic reckoning of several cycles of growth and contraction that reflect the American way of life.
– Stacy Arezou Mehrfar, Sydney, Australia
When I photograph a landscape the idea of a silent drama, with a scenery and a plot inspires me. Apparently it’s an orderly and soothing world in which elapses an ephemeral outcome of colour and light, but in fact this world breaks down, founders after a fire or any other kind of catastrophe.
I dislike giving details of the location of my photographs. Many of them, as if I could enter the scene at any moment, are my home and shelter of my dreams.
JM Ramírez-Suassi, Majorca, Spain
In times when nothing seems to have been created to last and it is the ephemeral reason of things that prevails, our transfiguration toward a disposable world is recognized as a congenital illness.
We live mesmerized by an entertainment society that in a systematic, insensitive manner creates, exhausts, and discards. Under the inflexible, dominant pressure of a culture of immediacy, it subjects its own product to terminal corrosion.
Beyond the rigidity of the conceptual apparatus and ideological assumptions, the civilization of entertainment is cruel. It has no memory. It lives stuck to novelty, no matter which, as long as it moves on.
This vertiginous production rate leads nowhere but to an accelerated obsolescence of its mechanisms. Thus, film settings — apparently enormous and grandiose — suffer the depraved parody of their own fleetingness. Settings condemned by their own staging.
A mere instrument for fantasy, when a setting becomes repetitive in the collective imagination, the same industry that created it sentences it to destruction. If not physically, by discrediting it with neglect.
It is these containing spaces with no content that frame this series. Photographs that capture these spaces now condemned to become even more contrived theme parks, by-products of a tourism industry that long ago became disfigured into another entertainment society’s tentacle.
Thus, hordes of visitors searching to devirtualize something that was previously constructed in their pictorial imaginary will dictate the epilogue for spaces recorded herein.
– José Luis De La Parra, Madrid, Spain
The city of Perugia is experiencing a time of great change and dislocation of the road or redefinition of its nerve centers. The construction of the Minimetrò started and ended with the ambition to carry most of the traffic directed to the parking lot to the acropolis of Pian di Massiano. It has changed significantly an innovative urban landscape of an important part of the city, starting with the redefinition the map of the areas most important to the city life. The new hospital Santa Maria della Misericordia has replaced the old hospital Monteluce — already demolished to make way for a residential and commercial area. Other important urban spaces await conversion projects. Settlements of large retailers are springing up on the edge of the suburbs, expanding more and more towards the neighboring municipalities.
All this ferment invites one to document this change, opposition, juxtaposition and layering of the urban and suburban landscape. The way in which the old town, suburbs, and rural areas are merging, intersecting or engulfing. A great ambition perhaps, but suited to the medium of photography.
Wandering in these places, visually noting landscapes, details that make up the overlapping of architectural details is not necessarily valuable or special. Architectural ambitions, often succeeded in a few decades, can help to describe the life of the city and also to imagine what will be. I do not aspire to a rigorous study of architecture, urban planning or sociology, but simply to convey the feelings, sometimes unusual, which can give the city, seeing and living with a free look from the rush of a hasty step.
Giuseppe Rossi, Perugia, Italy
Traditionally the term “desert” has referenced a place that is deserted, without people, and unpopulated. However, now, more than ever, the idea of an empty landscape is far less accurate. Raised in the Phoenix area, I have developed a personal obsession with and appreciation for these transformative spaces. I firmly believe that while we shape this land, nature continues to co-sculpt alongside us and my works act as reflections on the inherent contemporary symbolism and continually challenged identities found within the Southwest. Intermittently exploring how artifacts provide context to environment, I’m concerned with narratives related to the symmetry in nature and the human experience. While questioning concepts of permanence, I’m consistently attracted to the conscious and unconscious realities of what this desert stage provides.
– William LeGoullon, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
In Superior Apartments I sought to capture and present the complex layers of development that have taken place in the Bronx — a virtual laboratory of urban development. In its history, the Bronx has had dramatic cycles of promise, possibility, loss and revival. For much of its history since becoming part of New York City in the late 1800’s, the Bronx, with its solid brick apartment buildings and homes, was a step up the ladder for recent immigrants. In the 1920’s, apartment construction flourished along the Grand Concourse (the borough’s “Champs Elysee”), producing the nation’s largest collection of art-deco buildings. But by the 1970’s, the Bronx became synonymous with urban decline. Despite changes that have taken place since that time, the reputation of the Bronx has largely remained frozen. In Superior Apartments I try to look at the Bronx objectively as it exists now. While some of the photographs in this project include places that have become run-down, Superior Apartments is not a photographic study of urban ruin and decline. Instead, it is a presentation of the range, chaos, irony, richness and beauty of the urban landscape.
– Ira Wagner, Montclair, New Jersey, USA
The city of Rome is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world with its magnificent churches, ancient ruins, and picturesque views. These defining characteristics entice millions of visitors to Rome each year resulting in a city overflowing with tourists. Among the congestion and noise of the city, flows the Tiber River, which is segregated from its urban environment due its low elevation and towering embankments. As a result, the river and its environs are underutilized, poorly maintained, and starkly different from the bustling streets of Rome.
The area between the river’s embankments is an intermediate zone where nature and culture converge. The unique ecosystem of the Tiber is complex and quite fascinating. Although the river is inundated with trash and contaminated from the city’s runoff, nevertheless it continues to provide habitat to a variety of animals as well as offers refuge for many of the city’s inhabitants, especially the homeless. The Tiber River represents the resiliency of nature and provides a framework for tourists and locals alike to contemplate the relationship humans have with the natural world.
– Alexander Diaz, St. Augustine, Florida
To me photographing is telling a story through the subjects of reality, creating impressions and fascination that generates questions from the people who look at my pictures. If a simple picture can generate questions in a person who then tries to know more about what he is looking at, this is simply great. This is the purpose of this project Atmospheres: trying to represent the empty urban scenes in a nocturnal mood. A mood made of contrast, rarefied lives, bright lights and gloomy shadows, quietness and tension. Everything takes on a mystical charm which is so colorful but also dark, and all seems magical and suspended as if time were frozen. This series of urban landscapes tries to explain, (through the beauty of the night’s atmospheres) the wonderful charm of the unknown.
– Luca Orsi, Varese, Italy
Clearfield is a portrait of a Pennsylvania town in the process of losing its local businesses to competition from international superstores, such as Walmart. Clearfield is an excellent example of what is lost culturally when town centers are abandoned for megastores, because of its long history and uniquely American roots. Here you can find pristine examples of early American homes and WPA buildings, 50′s era movie theaters, and remnants of hundred-year-old unions and associations. Furthermore, these institutions’ history continues to play a vital role in the lives of the citizens of this rural manufacturing town to this day. Unfortunately, if the town center economically fails, the architecture where so much of its values reside will likely go with it, to be replaced by the curiously a-historical environments of mega-marts.
– Max Ross, Evanston, Illinois