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
The Island documents life on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The long and narrow string of barrier islands for many is a vacation destination. For me, it is much more. It is a place where I fell in love, married and hope to one day raise a family. The Island is my connection to a place that, like the tide, has its highs and lows.
The Outer Banks are undergoing changes from human forces and Mother Nature. Today, residents of the island are undergoing a heated debate about re-nourishing the dunes and protecting the island from the unforgiving waves of the Atlantic — or letting Mother Nature take her course and the ocean take what was once hers. No matter the outcome of this heated debate, this project serves as an important documentation as the sands of time change and shift the shape of the island.
Only time will tell if anything is left of a place I once called and still consider my home away from home. I can only hope the island is around for generations to come, but even if it is not, this project will be a testament of what once stood at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean.
— Tim Gruber, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Stay Golden suggests ideas of the uncertainties and vulnerabilities of existing in the world through the direct and curious observation of our everyday environment. The title comes from some graffiti I came across referencing a quote from the novel The Outsiders. These images loosely depict everyday struggle and the desire to remain “golden” — innocent and pure in a world of insecurities.
The series is an ongoing photographic survey of everyday Americana: overlooked places, objects, buildings, vehicles and signage. They are mostly vacant, emptied spaces, void of people but reeking of human presence. I am fascinated by the decisions people make, why they make them and I enjoy the layering effect of these decisions over time and how they can transform common things. I love dry humor, playful relationships and quirky coincidences.
Photography describes more than can be explained. It forces attention, the need to look and look again. I want to be rewarded with surprise and a recharged awareness of my surroundings, enjoying the subtle mysteries and metaphors found in the commonplace.
— Martin Buday, Denver, Colorado, USA
Residential Facades focuses on the documentation of suburbia: overgrown and under-planned. These continuously replicated structures boast an overwhelming sense of the generic; the nature of which is an indicator of the death of the local. The result of which is the eventual decline of spatially-derived identity and the emergence of a generic suburban, or dare I say American, vernacular.
These unadorned “facades” act as a veil of wealth and stability. They hint at the American dream, which in light of current national fiscal status it seems we can no longer afford. The title itself confronts us with a convenient double entendre, one simultaneously describing the physical face of these homes (and in turn our neighborhoods and projected identities), and the illusion behind which lingers the fragility of a nation.
— Travis Shaffer, Lawrence, Kansas, USA
This series of photographs, titled Marginal, examines life on the fringes of Detroit, Chicago, and Gary, IN. These lonely, undeveloped places are populated by castoff belongings and people who have nowhere else to go. Though the people who pass through are never around for the picture, the evidence of their presence provides clues into deciphering their marginal existence.
— Jennifer Ray, Chicago, USA
In summer 2010, I started working on a new project titled City River. Its focus is on the river Isar on which the city of Munich, Germany is located. In former times, the river was of great economic importance for the city but today it serves as Munich’s largest area for recreation. Although the Isar was canalized and its banks were fixed in the 19th century, large sections of the river convey an impression of “wilderness” that is quite exceptional for an urban landscape. This is due to the particular geology of the Munich area as well as a public initiative to “re-naturalize” the Isar.
City River is an ongoing exploration of the meaning of wilderness in the context of an urban landscape that has been used and rebuilt for many centuries. I am interested in the intersection of nature and culture and how people experience it.
— Thomas Wieland, Munich, Germany
Newland presents photographs of spaces built in the last few years in five new Dutch towns. This project questions the construction of the identity of these towns. How have these cities with no history been drawn and laid out? What has been erected there? Which monuments for which celebrations? However, we don’t have enough distance with these objects to be able to appreciate their legacy value for the next generations. It seems that photography, by freezing places and times in such spaces, vouches for or creates the legacy status of these objects.
The drawn spaces take shape through the photographic staging, whose role is here to create a moment – a moment and a monument. Newland is an imaginary space because it merges the landscapes of five cities. These landscapes present a scenography of the promotional/advertising town. This photographic corpus claims to be, maybe paradoxically, an archive in becoming. We ask ourselves the question of durability, while facing landscapes that were still but drawings half a century ago. Now it’s up to the viewer to question the shift between the imagined territory, photographed here, and the representation of reality, that often escapes us.
— Maxime Brygo