Some of the world’s most compelling places are those altered by industry, war, time and the calamity that we bring by simply living here. The photographs from UnEarth honor the complexity of this conundrum.
Landscape is everywhere. When we think of it as the subject of art, we conjure sylvan vistas (Claude Monet, Ansel Adams). But when we say industrial landscape, the words grate, fit together uncomfortably; we see rusting architectural hulks littering vast toxic wastelands.
In my lifetime the world has (naturally) changed. So my way of seeing it has evolved. Extractive industry, oil rigs, fracking and open pit mines–to photographers these are now as cogent as an iconic New Mexico moonrise or the ephemeral vail of a cascading waterfall. Beauty in nature resides everywhere, and human nature shapes much of what we relish in the world.
We trust photography to render faithful portraits of our families, friends, ourselves. Though the people in my pictures (when they appear at all) are as tiny as bugs, I see my work as portraiture too, as cultural autobiography. The cities we build, the rivers we dam, the mountains we level tell clearly what we care about. What we do matters hugely, and our legacy of monumental artifacts describes us perfectly.
In the landscape, we all know the elation, the momentary disorientation when we turn a corner near the rim of a mile-deep canyon, and are snagged by the implausible vista unfurling just past our shoes. This chasm before us may have been cut over eons by the Colorado River, or in a few decades by blasting crews and haul trucks mining copper ore. Either way, at that instant the scale and atmosphere grab us and raw beauty pulls us in. Hooked, we begin to think about what we behold. Whether that is splendor or plunder, we are in momentary awe.
“UnEarth” savors this paradox: we turn the earth inside out pursuing treasure; in that ravenous frenzy, we are shown beauty we neither expect nor deserve.