re-mediating nature

In this series I am exploring the ways we negotiate landscape with respect to how we repair, ignore, or replace sites that have been altered in some fashion. From the abandoned box store to the patching of sports fields we are constantly manipulating our landscape to benefit our needs. All these sites are at different points along a continuum from repaired wilderness to large scale alterations. At times nature is taking its course, regardless of man, taking over the parking lot, seeding itself into any available crevice, persisting despite and because of the initial incursion.
I am interested in how we materialize these remediations and their successes or failures. I am questioning whether it is important how we repair the landscape, or is the end result; a grassy expanse, enough for us in our age of simulacra. Does it matter to the larger culture whether grass was even the appropriate plant in that particular place? Through imaging these places I find a visual dialogue with these ideas and questions and a deepening of understanding of the landscape of the Western United States. Living in the Four Corners region there are large expanses of land that have historically been looked upon as ‘useless’, ‘uninhabitable’, and ‘ugly’. Due to these misconceptions we have given over vast areas to exploitive harvesting of minerals and living here it is impossible to ignore these incursions. In our current era the notion that we can redeem our acts through hydro seeding over a field that has lost all its natural contours, that we can mend the earth is a curious one, it is as Richard Misrach might say, a non-equivalent.

2008

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Piles

The making of piles is a way of ordering. I once knew a boat builder whose yard was full of materials he and his brother had collected from the town dump. Piles of copper, piles of iron, neat little pyramids, sorted and ordered. The piles I find in the landscape that I have been photographing always reminds me of that boat builder, and his impulse to sift through his environment, ordering it, defining it. The piles range from small rakings of grass to boulders piled up by bulldozers, they are individual and collective. They are even plants that look like piles, the contour of the mound being common to plants and piles.
Moving to southwest Colorado from the verdant northwest was a dramatic shift in environment. There is an openness to living in the southwest, simply by virtue of the dominant flora. There are no towering trees to enclose us just scrubby junipers and sagebrush, we are exposed. Such a landscape allows the messiness of life to be a bit more apparent than maybe elsewhere. Easterner’s who visit are always struck by some of the ugliness of the habitation in the west. The trailers and tract homes that litter the high desert bear little in common with the polished edges of the New England farm to be sure. But there remains an honesty to the process of becoming that the east has long since finished with. Those rough edges provide texture, depth, and realness, in an otherwise mythic landscape.
Driving highway 550 from Santa Fe, the landscape is huge; buttes rise up multicolored and iconic. This is where I first saw piles of stones stored by the side of the highway for road improvements and thought of photographing them. They were so human in scale in an otherwise outsized landscape; they were all equal in size, equidistantly placed along the road, cairns for the D.O.T. I returned sometime later to photograph them, but they had been laid into the roadbed. Teaching me my first lesson in photographing piles, they are transitory. They are materials in process, moving from here to there. It is the rearranging of the west, the shifting of resources, the cleaning of the landscape that piles represent. They are also a part of the landscape we visually overlook when faced with the enormity of the wide-open spaces of the west. It is a hard place to look at your feet when there are 10,000 foot peaks in the distance. But maybe by looking at our feet we may better understand our relationship with this landscape.

2007

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Garden

What in our daily lives keeps us in contact with the natural world? The garden mediates our relationship to nature. Gardens are miniature landscapes and in them we create spaces that reflect how we see the landscape beyond the enclosure of the garden. I am interested in how wild nature slips through the cracks of our cultivated world. In the weeds on the side of the road there is a life and energy, a fight for survival, and violence and death. There is a microcosm of all struggle for existence ever known in a few feet of dirt. I am interested in what lies just at the edge of the confines of our civilized existence and our fear of the unknown.
Our manipulation of the landscape and its relationship to our perception of what is ‘wilderness’ is central to my work. In both the created landscape of the garden, and in wild places I find a tension between order and chaos, a sense of place and placelessness. In my images I try to confront the viewer with spaces that contain both. I am seeking a visual metaphor for our perception of the landscape before the mediation of language resolves or assures us of our position within the structure. Through the photographic image I am exploring the direct sensory experience of being located within nature. I want to animate nature, to give it a forum that is not from the perspective of humans over nature but one where humans are embedded in nature.
The landscape of childhood has been a continual resource for my work. The perception of landscape experienced in childhood is one of acceptance of forces beyond ourselves, and retains the knowledge that we are one element within a larger system. As we grow, we differentiate ourselves from nature; resulting in an estrangement from its cyclical processes. The transference of energy and the transcendence of matter into other physical states is unending yet finite; nothing in this universe is lost, simply transformed. Though we are inextricably tied into this process of transference of energies, we conceive of ourselves as separate. We are plugged into this process, extracting, consuming, and producing, moving elements through the chain. Our bones are made of stars, we are passing though physical states; we too will become dispersed energy, nitrogen, potash, and apple.

2004

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