During the early years of the 21st century, Las Vegas was the fastest-growing metro area in the US. In Vegas, there was a job for anyone who wanted to work; housing all those workers meant new homes went up as fast as builders could drive the nails, and mortgage lenders could close the deals. But things that can’t last don’t; when the housing bubble inevitably burst in 2008, Vegas became Ground Zero, the sad exemplar of a cratered economy. Nevada has led the nation in home foreclosures since 2007. Yet on it parties, like an aging frat boy trying to convince himself he’s still having fun.
It would be obvious simply to photograph the shuttered buildings and acres of unsold tract homes that bespatter the metro area; those are the physical manifestations of the Vegas economalypse. But beneath these encrustations of recent man-made history, there also remains the starkly beautiful, human-imprinted southern-Nevada desert, with its astonishing light and rich palette of colors. I have long had an interest in the built landscape, and in few places is it as photogenic as in this part of the American southwest.
What about the visitors, the tourists, whose dollars had kept the whole place afloat? Cab drivers, bellhops, and others who perform the city’s “small jobs” tell me that they keep coming to Vegas — the crowds I negotiated during my 2010 visit affirmed that fact — but they are fewer in number, and spending far less money than in better times past. Despite the melted trillions of national wealth, people still need — perhaps more than ever — a getaway. But, walking along the Strip, there is the faintest whiff of threadbare fatigue about the environment. You can sense the unease behind the faces of the passersby, a discordant note in a city devoted to fantasy and gratification. This unease is what I felt so strongly; it’s what I’ve started, and hope to continue, to explore as this project develops.
— Michael Sebastian, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Although I have always felt a strong affinity to the land, I never purposefully made art about nature. Nonetheless, as a farmer I began to find ways to incorporate daily chores into my art, and the more I worked the land, a new appreciation formed.
My ongoing series of photographs titled Candescent Fields is as much about farming practices as it is modernist painting. Initially, my intention in photographing the annual grass-seed field burnings in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was to document the whole process, from the logistics of starting the fires to the regeneration of the blackened fields.
I was continually struck by the rich textures and contrasting tones created by the blaze and billowing smoke juxtaposed with the surrounding untouched fields. Public outcry has initiated restrictions on the practice, and farmers see this as a threat to their livelihood. I appreciate both perspectives, yet was motivated by the stark beauty of the fire and its aftermath.
— Patrick Collier, Stayton, Oregon, USA
Over ten years ago, I started working at a company whose offices are located in an industrial park in Parets del Vallès, in the province of Barcelona, Spain.
From the first day, I was particularly struck by the combination of the lush natural environment of the Vallès Oriental region, and the existence of many structures, ranging from industrial ones, such as warehouses, to road and motorway networks, including power lines, railways and even farmhouses, which I viewed as a testimony to a rural past that had been left behind after the industrialization of the natural landscape.
After that initial surprise, I tried to imagine what that natural setting, which even today still retains much of its original beauty, was like decades ago.
These images suggest a walk through a territory shared by the natural and the constructed. The route is not a linear one, but one in which I try to catalog the different typologies of structures that can be found in that territory as a way to find out what makes it characteristic.
— Pedro Arroyo, Barcelona, Spain
My work is in continuous development, with each new image informing the next. There is no “end,” no “project.” I work throughout the winter months in flat, neutral light and still air, discarding all peripheral information and most references to the topography. There are no skies or horizons and few focal points. In some cases, no “landscape.”
The fine rendering of the subject through the photographic process is fundamental. Almost innocuous arrangements of materials are heightened merely thorough being photographed. The use of elevated vantage points sometimes places the viewer in the canopy and often provides a taunting glimpse of something beyond or through the maze.
I started this work in the “wilds” of Derbyshire, but got increasingly drawn back to the city’s edges, its green, unmanaged areas on the urban borderline. The images appear to re-present the forces of “pure nature,” yet they are all “post-industrial landscapes” in one way or another.
— Matthew Conduit, Sheffield, United Kingdom
This work is from an on-going project, coincidence, which joins narrative photographs made in urban environments with landscape images that show little or no evidence of any human activity. Each pair consists of two images that interact to create a linkage of time and space, of artificial and natural, perceived and not perceived, suggesting that whatever circumstances are apparent in the moment are just tiny fragments of an infinite and timeless universe.
These diptychs evolved out of an attempt to resolve the difference in my mind between the two major branches in my work. I felt that I was seeing landscapes and the urban environment from different perspectives and concluded that the way I understand was being fundamentally changed by where I happened to be. Until that point it seemed natural to group these bodies of work separately, but I was troubled by the feeling that there was something missing from both groups. Although they seemed complete logically they fell short of expressing something crucial that I wanted to remember: that it is important to keep in mind that what is happening in our consciousness is mostly illusionary. I don’t know if they succeed in doing that, but they do create some interesting tensions and interactions that speak to the fascinatingly paradoxical nature of photography.
What is important to me is the way that the images interact to undermine each other’s context. You could say that the “content” of each pair is the invisible line where they meet.
— David Evans, Mission, British Columbia, Canada
The photographs research the interaction between overexposed and underexposed areas in space and the disturbances in the visual field of perception that result from this.
In Look Twice, the frame centers on flagpoles that divide the landscape and produce a diptych effect. Using overexposure as the basis for this material, this series highlights one element or subject that constitutes the photographic process.
These bodies dematerialize the geometry of the photographic space and recompose a new reality. Intrinsic to the landscape, they become disruptive. Pushing the exposure to the extreme, areas of light and dark, empty and full. These pictures tell a story of this diversion without the fictions of digital manipulation or retouching; a photography representing a world that is naturally fragmented.
— Sherif Elhage, Paris, France
Invisible Parallels is an ongoing project dedicated to the sea. I’ve always been interested in the sea, the attraction we have for it in the summertime, the fight for taking some piece of sand.
With this project I want to reflect those people who go to the seaside in winter, the inactivity, the loneliness of the individual against the landscape.
Invisible Parallels is an investigation into the emptiness that summer maritime areas have in winter.
— Violeta Morelli, Madrid, Spain
Ciociaria is an urban landscape project that developed over a period of a year while I was in and out of a region in central Italy known as Ciociaria. What intrigued me was finding out that this region was not well-defined and better yet, lacked a known history, thus ripe for my personal investigation. My goal then became to investigate the memory of this place, which is a recurrent theme that recently has been taking on more significance for me.
My earlier landscape projects were topographical in style, urban landscapes devoid of any individuals, which was starting to feel very sterile. Yet I did not want to move to a reportage or documentary style and feel any responsibilities to exactitude, as I frequently edit the content of my photographs. So I attempted to bridge the two with a banal or neutral observation of the human-altered landscape and introduce individual subjects into the edges of the frame.
I was seeking, as Karen Jenkins, one of my book reviewers, stated so elegantly, “places where the strange becomes familiar and the familiar strange.” This was a region unlike my home in Southern California, with differences in language, customs and culture, yet I found that I could obtain a sense of what was occurring in my presence — but I was never sure.
— Douglas Stockdale, Rancho Santa Margarita, California, USA
Winterwald, by Emanuel Raab
Emanuel Raab’s book opens with a photo that includes a tree in the middle distance. It looks like it would be easy to enjoy climbing, with a thick trunk and low branches. But between the viewer and the tree is a screen of leafless vines and brambles that makes it almost impossible to approach.
Throughout Raab’s book (Winter Forest in English) these kinds of screen occur. We are in the “natural” world, but nature is blocking off access to herself. Raab presents streams, trees, and unknown bodies of water that are hidden behind impenetrable growth. There are no paths or trails in his photographs. We are unable to walk into the forest of our dreams — with large trees, clear paths and little undergrowth. Instead we are stuck in an impenetrable wilderness.
Eventually my focus moved toward the screens themselves, which are beautiful in an unconventional way. Flecks of red brambles, green moss, small leaves and curving vines create a surface of abstract delight. Raab photographed sometimes at dusk, resulting in a murky background that fades away from the viewer. He usually throws the background out of focus, increasing its distance from us.
Winterwald will not be available for sale in the United States, but may be purchased directly from its German publisher, Kehrer Verlag.
— Willson Cummer
Low-voltage orange streetlights bouncing off wet black asphalt and yellow floodlights contaminating every inch of space. My perception of night ingrained in me from growing up in Northern Ireland, where street lighting stems beyond the norms of lighting parks and pathways to create a balanced, safe social space. Lighting becomes an instrument of social control and surveillance, while darkness is positioned as a space of tactical menace, exile and the unknown.
My latest series, Under Cover of Darkness, journeys through the darkened streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, orchestrating the sense of anxiety and paranoia that is present in these black-spot sectarian landscapes.
— Fergus Jordan, Belfast, Northern Ireland