Painters and photographers of the uninhabited wilderness have used selection and composition as an antidote for perceived disorder and, thus, suggest a place to venture and explore no matter how dangerous. There are wildernesses within civilization created by abandonment and other unintentional acts. These out-of-the-way places have a certain desolation and emptiness. They suggest loss, separation, alienation, failure, and futility.
Abandonment is a statement of failure of an object, a construction, a creation, to satisfy the needs of the creator or the owner. Each instance of abandonment begs a historical narrative, in a sense, a minor crime drama with motive, method, and opportunity to be discovered or at least pondered.
I am a visual explorer that is excited by particular, chance arrangements of items left and found together. I seek out these places where structure and disorder — the designed and the not designed — interact.
— Michael Prais, Geneva, Illinois, USA
The Pennsylvania Railroad was one of the most storied institutions in American history, operating the largest railroad in the US for over a century. The PRR, as it was known, developed infrastructure, engineering standards and traffic systems that still carry trains today on a system that evolved continually through its long history.
Following its 1968 collapse, the physical face of the PRR network has changed considerably. This once unified system has been carved by various successors into separate if interdependent, corridors for freight and passenger operations across the Mid Atlantic. Though gone nearly half a century, its remains provide visual clues of how the “Standard Railroad of the World” operated, and its contributions to the American way of life.
Inspired by the work of William H. Rau, commissioned in the 1890’s to document and promote the Pennsylvania Railroad and its destinations, the From the Main Line project is a contemporary exploration of the landscape the PRR shaped. It examines both the inhabited landscape developed along the railroad while celebrating the engineering marvel of the Road itself, first undertaken over 150 years ago.
Photographs provide two distinct views by contextualizing the railroad within the landscape while also simulating the experience of the passenger, as if from a railcar window. The story of how the PRR shaped the development of the United States is told by illustrating its transitioning landscape, uncovering its hidden layers of growth, by following the decline and rebirth of small towns, industrial areas and city terminals whose fortunes once depended solely on those of this singular, once-mighty transportation system.
— Michael Froio, Williamstown, New Jersey, USA
Sydney is defined by its suburban sprawl, and the series, Suburbex, captures the essence of exploration beyond the urban centre. I was born and raised in this endless patchwork of of homogenised residences, gritty industrial estates and soulless commercial centres. Growing up in this environment enabled me to appreciate the hidden beauty in what, at a superficial glance, might otherwise appear bleak and monotonous. Suburbex employs bold colours, shapes and contrasts in order to reveal the beauty in the bleak banality of Sydney’s endless suburbs.
— Michael Garbutt, Sydney, Australia
Deeper into the Presence is a series of photographs made within the Red River Gorge geological area of Kentucky. The series title and approach to photographing this landscape was inspired by Kentucky author Wendell Berry’s description of the photographic artist in his book The Unforeseen Wilderness. The book, tag-teamed with photographs by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, focused on the need to protect the Red River Gorge as wilderness in a time when it was under the threat of being dammed and flooded.
Of the photographic artist’s journey, Berry writes, “It is an endless quest, for it is going nowhere in terms of space and time, but only drawing deeper into the presence, and into the mystery, of what is underfoot and overhead and all around. Its grace is the grace of knowing that our consciousness and the light are always arriving in the world together.”
This series of photographs is my attempt to draw “deeper into the presence” of this intricate place. The grids of images are my attempts to catalog the density and diversity of textures found on these rock walls. The individual rectangles are captured in camera separately, then arranged digitally and printed as a single image.
— Michael Winters, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
Wald, by Michael Lange
In Wald (The Woods), German photographer Michael Lange explores the twilight hours of dawn and dusk in the forests of his country. Gloomy at times, glowing at others, the images present a complex view of the woods. Nothing human ever appears — no people, no houses, no signs, no trash. Lange creates a storybook forest; a forest of dreams. As poet Wolfgang Denkel writes in the book, “This is not a place we go — it is where we have always been, unaware.”
And what are the pictures of ?? Stands of pines, tangles of deciduous branches, ferns, leaves fallen into water. There’s never any direct sunlight — these pictures were made in the hour before dawn and the hour after sunset, when only a long exposure could capture enough light to create an image. Perhaps because of this dim light, the pictures avoid being nature photography. They are more mysterious and muddier than calendar photos of forests. And Lange’s composition, which declines to offer points of attention in the images, makes the work compelling.
Lange dedicates the book to Joko Charlotte Beck, his Buddhist teacher. And his meditative approach to the woods is partly the result of his 20 years of practicing Buddhist meditation — though he stressed in an email to me that the book should be understandable to anyone.
— Willson Cummer
There is a palpable sense of sadness and despair felt when walking in the woods and fields of Mt. Ida, as if a dark veil enshrouded the landscape. While stumbling across remnants of failed lives and desperate attempts of domesticity, one cannot help to think of those forced to endure such hardship. In 2010, the city of Troy, New York permanently banished the homeless from the land. It was then that I chose to carry out the project Displaced, to be a memorial to the landscape and a testament to the people who called this place home.
In photographing, I was less interested in literally documenting what I came upon and more in the narrative contained in the personal ephemera, belongings, and structures for living. I wanted to avoid personal bias or the overt social and political implications of the subject matter, allowing the spirits of this neglected landscape to shine through. The photographs are intentionally left open-ended. In the end, the viewers will have their own personal experiences when viewing the work.
During the time I have been working, construction projects have threatened and overtaken portions of the land. I dutifully photographed what was to be eliminated. Presently, the construction of another building has eradicated the landscape once more. Eighty percent of what I have photographed no longer exists. This includes the landscape itself, as well as what was left behind by the homeless. I fear that much of the land of Mt. Ida will, slowly but surely, succumb to this conflicting relationship between man and nature.
— Michael Bach, Troy, New York, USA
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
On my way back from Sydney, Australia to Frankfurt, Germany I had an overnight stay in South Korea. It was January 2010 and when we came out of the airport everything was covered with snow. It was extraordinarily beautiful and captivating.
The snow slowed everything down. There was hardly any traffic on the roads and the city looked like a deserted landscape. As we arrived at the hotel, every TV station was reporting on the masses of snow — which seemed to be unusual for Korea.
I started shooting some night views from our hotel window and continued the next morning. The landscape, with all the construction sites and the empty spaces, was totally fascinating to me.
I immediately fell in love with Incheon and wanted to capture this unusual and beautiful part of Korea in this rarely-seen state.
— Michael Werner