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The Green Life: Photographing Nature at its Most Unnatural

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January 20, 2011

Photographing Nature at its Most Unnatural

David Maisel Lake Project 20 Looking at the recent work of artists Edward Burtynsky, David Maisel, and J. Henry Fair, it’s hard not to appreciate them for their vivid, saturated colors and abstract, almost hallucinatory perspectives. That is to say, it’s almost impossible to reconcile the beauty in these photographs with the environmental devastation they represent.

Oil the color of blood washes from the Deepwater Horizon spill across the blue Gulf, an accusation only superficially veiled. The otherworldly hue of a glacial lake catches the eye, only to be revealed as the remains of an open-pit copper mine, its endless concentric berms boring ever farther into the earth. The same colors and elements that we find appealing in more traditional nature photography are present in these works but convey something else. It’s hard to know whether we should praise these works for finding beauty in destruction, or criticize them for abstracting the ugliest side of human industry. Whatever your perspective, these works are a valuable reminder of the power we possess over our environment and of the consequences of our decisions about how to use it.

To see more, check out the sites of photographers Edward Burtynsky, J. Henry Fair (and read the recent NYT feature about him), and David Maisel.
--Zoë J. Sheldon / photo by David Maisel

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