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THE REGISTER OF A DAMAGE
This project is a descriptive and interpretative investigation of the earthquake that struck the city of Aquila and other parts of the Abruzzo region in Italy in 2009. Sergio Camplone cleverly explores the prodomi, the warning signs, by drawing a diagnostic picture of the whole story that leaves the reader really disappointed. The tragedy seems to be rooted distant in time and we feel the negligence of territorial policies or their total deficiency. However, the author is able to draw attention away from this unfortunate sense of premeditation. A man is sitting and watching the mountains. A child seems to pee without fear of the abyss. Everything passes and everything starts again (by Steve Bisson).
“Mr Mayor and members of the council. In a moment when we are assailed by the anxious doubt of fear, the heart of our city was stirred by the quest for a haven that would defend it more surely from the terrible consequences of the earthquake, and in the mind of each the strangest and most illogical ideas alternated, of abandoning our land forever to create wooden houses, which only an excessive panic could justify (…). Our town, after the terrible earthquake of 1703, which hit it so hard, rose again thanks to the valour and tenacity of its people (…). Not wooden shacks or modest dwellings were to oppose the earthquakes that continued to attack, but sumptuous palaces and monuments, well-built homes, drawing teachings from past cataclysms, turning buildings to such a position that the impact of the seismic wave investment would cause the least damage (…). To think of decentralization is an offence to every principle of logic and progress.”
Earthquake Commission Report and Recommendations.
L’Aquila, November 1915
© Sergio Camplone
“Ideologies create substantiating archives of images, which encapsulate common ideas of significance and trigger predictable thoughts, feelings … The problem is not that people remember through photographs, but that they remember only the photographs. This remembering through photographs eclipses other forms of understanding, and remembering.”
Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.
Studies, videos, films, documents, books, themed blogs really are an ocean in which we can easily lose ourselves and this is why it is difficult to understand which information and how much of it has reached its destination correctly. What is defined as “collective memory” is not at all the result of a memory but rather a pact, agreeing which version of the facts should be deemed valid.
The earthquake of 6 April 2009 was preceded by a series of facts and circumstances even quite different from one another. “Anagrafe del danno” moves transversally across facts, places and figures that somehow characterized the event.
My approach is based chiefly on the study of the harbingers of the earthquake, beginning metaphorically with the mammoth (Elephas Meridionalis), the photo that opened the project, showing an animal that lived over one million years ago, in the Aquila basin, which looked like a large closed lake. This large prehistoric animal, closed in its “armour” along with the scaffolding costing 240,000,000 euros, which envelops the entire historic centre of L’Aquila, and in excess of 1,200 decrees, ordinances and regulations produced by the State, by local authorities and the civil protection agency, are a clear sign of how things stand five years after earthquake. [Sergio Camplone]
Above image caption: Mammuthus meridionalis: extinct species widespread in the Italian peninsula at the beginning of the Quaternary. The animal, which dates back about a million years ago, lived in Aquila basin, which at the time appeared as a large lake closed. Before the affirmation of the concept of evolution of modern geology, the people who lived in the areas affected by the discovery of fossils of ‘meridionalis’, tended to give fanciful explanations about their origin, as confirmed by John Murray in his ‘Guide for Central Italy in 1843’. «The inhabitants, who are ignorant of the natural history, argue that this way is passed Hannibal and therefore believe that the bones are the remains of the Carthaginian elephants.»
Above image caption: Pettino, the new city born from the general plan of ‘75. One of the largest districts of L’Aquila, is situated on a fault line, 10 km deep, which has generated the most devastating earthquakes in the region. The geological report attached to the plan showed clearly the fault, says Anthony Perrotti the former general manager of the ‘Department of Environment and Territory of the region, but obviously the city had to expand there. (…) “Luckily, the fault that was set in motion in 2009, was not to Pettino, otherwise we would have seen far more destruction.”
Above image caption: The area “Campo di fossa” for centuries it was never built. A district populated by ghosts, a place used for the executions of death sentences, then an esplanade used to the barracks of the earthquake of 1461, 1703 and the one of Marsica in 1915. To put it short, a damn neighborhood. “Campo di fossa” is the name of the whole area at the southern end of the fortified perimeter of the city of Aquila, which was established on the basis of a single draft urbanization, made in the mid-thirteenth century. The curse will die out only when all the churches, all the monasteries and convents all of the “Campo di Fossa” will disappear due to earthquakes or as a result of restructuring and changes that will make them unrecognizable.
Above image caption: The Decree Law 28 April 2009, n. 39, and more specifically Article 12 of the Decree, states that the Autonomous Administration of State Monopolies of the Ministry of Economy and Finance will devote a percentage of the profits from gambling games, including the ‘Gratta e Vinci’, 10eLotto, WinForLife, Poker Cash, Casino online, etc. … to the reconstruction of the city of L’Aquila and the towns of the crater to the extent of not less than EUR 500 million per year from 2009 until 2032. According to information provided by the concessionaire “Sisal”, between September 2009 and December 2012 only the WinForLife would have earned € 305 million for the reconstruction of Abruzzo, but the funds, as denounced by the local authorities concerned and the many committees and associations of citizens, there is no trace. As for the figures earned through to VLTs, the Court of Auditors, in its Report on the General Account of the State for the financial year 2012, stated that “the State has gained from the video lottery industry at least 3 billion EUR.
Above image caption: The order of the President of the Council of Ministers no. 3797 of 2009, Article 5, allowed to repay the cost of removal of furniture (and any deposit) to those who had to vacate the houses damaged by the earthquake.
Above image caption:: The epicenter of the earthquake L’Aquila - INGV data INGV 42 334 13,334 USGS Data: 06/04/2009 at 01:32:39 (03:32:39) N ° 42 334, 13 334 ° E
© Sergio Camplone
BY GAIA MUSACCHIO
1. Tell us about your background, where and when did you study photography, who were your teachers, who influenced you the most?
In 1998, I completed an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Arts and Technology from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. I was employed as a graphic designer and illustrator at a major publishing company for ten years before i discovered the full creative potential of photography. I completed my BFA with an emphasis in Photography in 2010 where I studied under MaryDorsey Wanless. Under her guidance, I initiated my critique of photography as an agent of truth and experimented with an interdisciplinary approach to photography, printmaking, drawing, and performance art.
© Daniel Coburn
In 2013 I completed my MFA in Photography at the University of New Mexico. Jim Stone (Professor of Photography) and Kirsten Buick (Associate Professor of Art History) were my primary mentors. My current work and research practice takes a critical look at vernacular photography. I am specifically interested in the family photo album and it’s role as the infrastructure for a false American domestic utopia.
2. What was your first teaching experience? What directed you towards a teaching career?
I began by teaching digital photography at a community art center. At the University of New Mexico I taught introductory photography courses as instructor of record. Teaching is a difficult and rewarding endeavor. It’s difficult because I give everything I have to my students in an effort to honor the history of photography and the great lineage of photographers that have come before. I feel its a privilege to teach and I enjoy seeing my students evolve and grow as artists and people. I view the student/instructor relationship as a reciprocal one. I hope to gain as much from my students as they gain from me. My goal is to surround myself with people that are passionate about the medium. Teaching is just one way of accomplishing that goal. I am currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas where I teach a full range of courses from antiquated processes to the most current latest lens-based technologies.
© Daniel Coburn
3. As this interview series focuses on artist/educators, could you describe the photography program at your institution? Can you discuss the challenges and your role as a teacher of photography?
The Photography program at the University of Kansas is dedicated to evaluating and redefining the medium of photography. The undergraduate curriculum is rigorous and designed to immerse students in an exploration of the vast, everchanging medium of photography. We have two full time faculty members dedicated to our facilities and students. Through in-depth instruction, students develop a diverse technical skillset, becoming proficient in both analog and digital practices. The program encourages a strong work ethic, and places emphasis on visual literacy. My pedagogy focuses on the persistent act of making work, and regular participation in critique, in an effort to foster critical thinking skills that enable young photographers to read and unpack visual texts.
© Erin Dvorak, student work
The department houses two state of the art Digital Imaging Labs featuring forty digital workstations and the latest inkjet printing technology. These labs are furnished with cutting-edge flatbed and drum scanning capabilities. The dedicated and fully equipped lighting studio is spacious and accessible. The traditional darkroom on campus includes a finishing area, two print processing lines, and 20 enlarging stations. The Photo-Media department has an expansive and eclectic collection of digital and analog equipment available for student check out. An Experimental/Alternative Processes lab has recently been added to compliment the wet darkroom and high-end digital environment. My colleague and I are currently designing and implementing an MFA program at the University of Kansas. We will be actively recruiting graduate students in the 2014-2015 academic year.
© Katherine Andrews, student work
The medium of photography has been subject to a technological revolution. As a dedicated educator, it is difficult to stay informed and current. Striking a balance between my own artistic practice and my role as an educator is a difficult one.
4. You divide your time between the Assistant Professor and your personal artistic research. How do you manage these different paths and related points of view? And how is it possible to share these aspects of artistic practice in teaching and with student careers? Does your own work influence how or what you teach?
I consider myself a portrait photographer and I also have a keen interest in making photogaphic objects. My expertise in these fields influences the way I teach, and of course, my personal biases and values make their way into my curriculum. I can’t pretend to be neutral. I hope that students decide to study with me because of my specialized areas of interest. However, I enjoy, respect, and value all types of photographic work and I encourage my students to take a genuine approach to art making. Great works of art are born when the maker is honest in his or her intentions. I encourage my students to find something they are passionate about.
© Daniel Coburn
Balancing personal work and research with teaching is VERY challenging. I tend to embrace all modes of communication with my students (email, texting, social media) to stay in touch. This also means that I can work from my home or studio. I make good use of holidays, intersessions, and Summer breaks to concentrate on my own work and studies. I live and breathe photography.
5. What about your artistic paths and photographic research? Tell us about your main interests and what projects you have worked on in recent years. What are you working on now? Any ideas for the future?
My work is a critique of the family photo album as it exists to support the notion of an ideal American Dream and Family. Early Eastman-Kodak advertisements provided the archetype; a set of visual instructions on what the proper family photograph should look like. This is why most family photo albums are filled with the same photographic cliche’s. For example, we see images of children opening gifts during the holidays, blowing out birthday candles, the family at the beach, etc. Most family photo albums are interchangeable in this regard.
© Daniel Coburn
I began by examining my own family photo album. Where were the images that describe the domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide that haunt my family history? In my project, Next of Kin, I set out to create images that describe this history. This work serves as a supplement to my own broken family album. This work is ongoing. I am currently working with found vernacular imagery in my project “Domestic Reliquary.” Examples can be seen on my website.
© Daniel Coburn
6. What are your inspirations in terms of books and photographers that you have loved the most? Do you have a book to recommend to our readers? Which emerging photographer has recently interested you?
Sally Mann’s, Immediate Family played an important role in my development as a young photographer. I frequently revisit the pages of Larry Sultan’s, Picture’s from Home. I am captivated and terrified by Richard Billingham’s monograph Ray’s a Laugh. There are a lot of emerging photographers making great work. Katie Koti and Cynthia Henebry are two of my favorites.
© Max Mikulecky, student work
7. You took part in many exhibitions. Any particular advice for young photographers aspiring to display and exhibit their work without drowning in the ocean of images in which we daily swim?
My advice is to work hard. Opportunities abound. Be strategic in how you spend your money. There are a lot of organizations and individuals that are profiting from the desperation of young ambitious photographers. But don’t be synical. It is best to engage. Enter all of the juried exhibitions hosted at reputable institutions. Don’t forget to engage with your local arts community. They will help lift you up, and be there to catch you when you fall.
© urbanautica | Daniel Coburn
Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York
26:06.2014 - 08.08.2014
In Art Fare Freeberg continues his longstanding investigation of the junctions where art and people intersect. Roaming through international art fairs with his camera, Freeberg’s gaze pauses on the oddity of human behavior and frames the small moments in life as dramatic events.
© Andy Freeberg, ‘Sean Kelly, 2010. Kehinde Wiley, Art Basel Miami Beach’
Quick and skillful with his lens, Freeberg captures what is most often overlooked; gallery workers setting up booths, dealers on their phones ignoring their colleagues or interacting with artists and collectors, and the sheer exhaustion of working at contemporary art fairs. In a conversation with art historian W. M. Hunt Freeberg says that he “found the lighting, the costumes, and set design excellent for photographing these living dioramas where the art world plays itself.”
© Andy Freeberg, ‘Charlotte Lund, 2011. Denise Grunstein, Armory Show 2011’
Art Fare gracefully offers an ironic look at the way in which the art world practitioners perform their assigned roles. It is a witty and subversive body of work that contemplates on the performance aspect of the art market. Freeberg’s ability to recognize moments and construct them as thoughtful compositions presents both his aesthetic and psychological sensibilities.
© Andy Freeberg, ‘Contessa, 2010. Chuck Close, Hanneke Beaumont, Louise Nevelsen, Fernando Botero, Lynn Chadwick, David Drebin, Armory Show’
Andy Freeberg was born in 1958 in New York City. After studying photography at the University of Michigan, he returned to New York, where he began making a living shooting portraits for various publications including The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and Time. His work has been exhibited internationally, with solo shows at the State Museum of History of St. Petersburg (Russia), Photographic Center Northwest (Seattle, WA) and Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center (Stanford, CA). His work is in several collections including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Portland Museum of Art, and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography.
© Andrea Meislin
BY STEVE BISSON
1. Tell us about your current photographic research?
I started as a documentary photographer but my work took a more introspective turn around 2006 when I started being interested in exploring the limitations of photography and how to exploit them creatively. During this period I was using photography to discuss the media of photography itself. Some of the projects I did back then are ‘What We don’t See’, ‘Almost’ and ‘360’. Then later in 2011, when I moved to Singapore, I found a renewed interest in documentary photography perhaps because living in this part of the world has sparked a new sense of curiosity in me and a wish to tell new stories through photography. At the moment I am working in a new project in Jakarta. This city is big and difficult to live in - one of the biggest megacities in the world. Jakarta relies on so many people to keep it running. It is such a big never-ending job, that is carried out in such a small scale, usually by manual, not mechanised labour. The working title is ‘Mapping Jakarta’ and I am trying to make sense of the city and its vast scale by looking at the small details in it.
2. Let’s talk about the project ‘Common Love’?
I often feel frustrated by the way some countries are perceived and understood by western culture and how this reflects in the strategies, methodologies and subject matter that some photographers choose when working in these countries. Much photography work has been done on Thailand but these projects are mainly related to issues concerning ancient traditions and architecture, Buddhism, tourism and also the sex industry. My personal interest, both when I am travelling and doing a photographic project, are closer to researching and visiting the areas of the city local people use and live in. This is not because I am interested in banality but because I am intrigued by the common settings that make cities what they are. Ultimately ‘Common Love’ is a project about a particular geography during a limited time frame, interpreted from a personal point of view.
3. How did you get the idea for the book?
I always saw ‘Common Love’ as a book. I enjoy producing something that will remain in a physical form. Exhibitions are a great way to show work at its best but they obviously are time limited. A book also creates a closer relationship between a photographer’s work and his/her audience. In fact, I am also into collecting the work of other photographers in book form for the same reasons.
4. It’s your second edition with the Velvet Cell. How did you choose the editor, how this new experience differentiate from the previous? How has your relationship with the publisher changed in time?
Éanna at the Velvet Cell approached me in 2013 with the idea of publishing ‘Close for Winter’ as a small book. Our working relationship was good during this first collaboration and when I finished producing ‘Common Love’, I proposed to him to publish it as a bigger book. I enjoy working with independent publishers because I feel I have more in common with them in the way they understand and relate to photography. In the case of The Velvet Cell, Éanna’s main concern is to produce a good quality finished product and so is mine.
5. What did your learn from this experience, plus and minus?
I learnt how difficult it is to edit work when making a book. I think I did about 10 versions of the book before I settled for the final one. When you have a limited amount of pages, you need to make difficult decisions. For example, I had a collection of portraits of young couples in the streets of Bangkok. As the project developed and took on a different direction, these portraits seemed more and more irrelevant. It took some time for me to realise this and Éanna was instrumental in me realising that these portraits were not needed.
6. Plans for the future?
To keep on living in Singapore and travel in the vicinity looking for more interesting ideas for projects.
7. Can you suggest us 3 photography books that you liked?
I like many books for different reasons both from established and independent publishers, too many to mention. What I find truly interesting is how small publishers are taking on a number of very interesting photographers and giving them a platform to publish. I am seeing truly interesting books published this way that would have been overlooked by big established publishing houses. It is very exciting times for photo books right now.
112 pp / 200 x 236 mm
Softcover with Gatefold
Section-Sewn, Colour Offset
Limited Edition of 500
© Isidro Ramirez | The Velvet Cell
Peter Lav Gallery, Copenhagen
The experiment is an integral part of the visual arts. The urge to both conceptually and aesthetically challenge artistic media has always played an important role in developing the arts and to create new forms of expression and new experiences for the viewers. As an art form photography has always had to counter the specific challenge of trying to escape the burden of representation, and throughout the history of photography numerous artists have experimented with the medium in an attempt to break the shackles of documentation.
© Carina Zunino. ‘Curtain Falls V’. 2013. Pigment print, framed.
The exhibition Touching Light combines four artists who by very different artistic strategies challenge the very materiality of photography. Each of them strive for a renewal of the medium of photography to fit their own personal and conceptual point of departure. Even though all four share a solid background in classic photographic virtues, the end results display dramatic differences.
© Camilla Rasborg. ‘Mørklægningsgardin 1 (Blackout Curtain 1)’. 2013, Textile, framed.
© Julie Boserup. ‘Untitled’. 2013, Collage, framed.
Whether we look at collages, cut-ups or at experiments with the very fabric of photography, the works of the four participating artists all build upon a photographic way of thinking. Adam Jeppesen abandons the perfection of the photographic print by replacing it with Xerox copies in the A4 format, meticulously mounted with needles or manipulated with oil pastels in his search for a form of expression that can convey personal memories from his travels. Carina Zunino’s point of departure is also the unfamiliar landscape, but she also draws on the metaphor of the stage curtain in her theatrical installations that suggest possible narratives in otherwise empty landscapes.
© Adam Jeppesen. ‘Unititled 1307 P1 + P2’. 2012, Diptych, framed in oak. Xerography, assembled from A4 sheets of paper.
At first glance the label of photography does not seem to fit Camilla Rasborg’s Blackout Curtains, but a closer examination reveals them to be exactly that: lmprints of light born from the sun’s bleaching of blackout curtains the artist found in an apartment in Århus. On the surface Julie Boserup’s collage works are abstract explorations of texture, color, form and space, but they also carry deep reflections on the nature of the reality that surrounds us and perhaps a utopian vision of the potential of human creativity.
© Peter Lav Gallery, Copenhagen Photo Festival 2014
Open Eye Galllery, Liverpool
05.07.2014 - 19.10.2014
Not All Documents Are Records represents Open Eye Gallery’s contribution to the Liverpool Biennial 2014. The exhibition, curated by Lorenzo Fusi, looks at three key international visual art platforms through the lens of photography, moving between the past and future. The main theoretical question underpinning the project is: “Can photography be the site where the history of an exhibition is produced and still retain its independent artistic autonomy, thus overcoming pure documentation?”
Ugo Mulas, Venezia, 1968. Proteste studentesche, XXXIV Esposizione Biennale Internazionale d’Arte, “Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs. All rights reserved,” courtesy camera16 contemporary art
The exhibition starts its journey from two of the most important art events in the world. Documenta in Kassel is a survey of modern and contemporary art, established in 1955 by Arnold Bode as a means for reconnecting Germany with the most recent developments in the arts after Nazi obscurantism and censorship. The prestigious Venice Biennale is the oldest exhibition of its kind, founded in 1895. These forums greatly contributed to and informed the so-called ‘biennial model’. International in relevance and ambition a biennial unfolds and manifests periodically with the aim of ‘photographing’ the status of the arts at a specific moment in time and anticipating the trends of the future. It is in this model that the Liverpool Biennial originates.
The show introduces the viewer to this format by presenting two seminal photographic series – Hans Haacke’s 1959 photographs of Documenta 2 and Ugo Mulas’ images of the 1968 Venice Biennale.
© Photographic Notes, documenta 2, Mondrian, Klee 1959 © Hans Haacke © DACS, London
Haacke was still an art student in Kassel at the time and worked on the installation of the exhibition. After the opening of the show he independently took on the task of visually ‘documenting Documenta’. The resulting 26 black and white images offer unique insight to the event.By looking at the dialogue between selected artworks, the space they inhabited, the way they are displayed and interact with the audiences, Haacke’s images speak not only about art per se, but comment on society as well as on the politics and power relations established by the actual exhibition.
These photographs are rarely seen in the UK and represent, in Haacke’s view, one of his earliest accomplished artworks.
Similarly, Mulas started his career as a photographer by taking pictures of another important art platform. His first professional assignment was a photo-reportage of the 1954 Venice Biennale, an event that he went on photographing until 1972. It is consequently not very surprising that today Ugo Mulas is mostly known for his intense portraits of artists. Open Eye Gallery hosts the UK premiere of the photos Mulas took during the 1968 Venice Biennale: the ‘biennale of the revolution’. The selection on show is held in a private collection and has been curated by Mariachiara Di Trapani. The images document artists demonstrating against the establishment represented by the Venice Biennale and poetically illustrate this intense period of political turmoil and social uprising. The banners held in protest read: The “policed” and “militarised Biennale of the bourgeoisie”.
As the preparations for the UK Biennial are underway, Cristina De Middel reinterprets the history of the Liverpool Biennial, imagining its possible future developments by means of a new commission. Spanish-born and London-based De Middel is well known for challenging photography as a medium by questioning the ‘truth’ and ‘veracity’ expressed by images. She came to prominence with the series The Afronauts, a fictional account of the 1964 Zambian space programme that, due to the lack of funding, never came to its full realisation (the artist herself has never been to Zambia).
© And I Think to my selffffffffff what a wonderful worlllllllllld © Ira Lombardia, 2012
Likewise, another Spanish artist, Ira Lombardía, infiltrated the legacy of the most recent Documenta, held in Kassel under the artistic directorship of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and unfolded over the summer of 2012. After a visit to this exhibition, Lombardía included a fictional artist in their exhibition catalogue whose work was created by chance. During the time she spent in Kassel, the artist experienced an ‘epiphany’, the sudden manifestation of an artwork purely created by light inside the Fridericianum (the exhibition’s main venue). The piece on show at Open Eye Gallery follows the artist’s philological, yet entirely fictional, playful recreation of the history behind such a metaphysical and unexpected manifestation.
© Open Eye
303 Gallery, New York
5.06.2014 - 25.07.2014
Navigating the fraught terrain where photography and painting intersect and collapse into one another, Maier-Aichen’s newest works incorporate strategies from both media while persistently crossing back and forth along their borders. In a series of untitled abstractions that at first glance appear to contain absolutely no tangible photographic information, Maier-Aichen employs a process akin to now obsolete traditional cel animation. The foregrounds of these images feature gestural strokes and splashes in alternating positive and negative iterations, originally created by spontaneously pouring acrylic paint directly onto paper rolls. Output onto transparent film, these foreground components are then physically sandwiched together with painted backgrounds and photographed on an enormous copystand. This hybridization, on one hand steeped in the process-based darkroom tinkering of photograms and another referencing technological interventions into painting, creates a type of image that would never be possible via traditional painting or photography alone. Though decidedly photographic in nature (what could be more direct than photographing something on a copystand?), the oscillation between image and object is replete with the painterly allure of chance and chaos, so often scrubbed free from current modes of clinical and forced photographic production.
© Florian Maier-Aichen, Halbes Bild, 2014
© Installation view at 303 Gallery, 2014
Also included in this exhibition are more traditional landscape photographs. Though the photographs are quite straight, they also toy with notions of the painterly, as in an aerial image of Los Angeles with its saturated infrared hues and seemingly impossible expanses of depth, drawing on the imaginative possibilities of maps and the abstraction of landscape. An image of Andermatt in the Swiss Alps is a type of 19th century recreation using tricolor photography to mimic a similar image by Eduard Spelterini, who photographed the Swiss landscape from a customized hot-air balloon. The landscape has hardly changed in 150 years, as Switzerland itself is highly reliant on its own clichés and pristine maintenance of the landscape for tourist purposes. Maier-Aichen, in an interview in 2013, has said, “Photography is everywhere at every moment and has gone from mysterious to fake to simulative. Photography as an opaque medium of process, thought and craftsmanship is obsolete.” Seeking to work around this bleak situation via strategies that hark back to photography’s relationship to Pictorialism and German Romanticism, Maier-Aichen has arrived at methods that are reverential of photography’s history, while also pointing to new possibilities for the photographic image. Turning the idea of photography as a tool to imitate painting on its head, Maier-Aichen works in reverse to re-establish the mysteries of photography itself.
© Installation view at 303 Gallery, 2014
© Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled (Andermatt), 2014
Florian Maier-Aichen was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1973 and studied photography in Germany and the U.S. Recent solo exhibitions include the Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Madrid (2008) and the Museum of Contemporary Art at Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles (2007). Group exhibitions include “Night in Day” (2014), Los Angeles County Museum of Art; “The Artist’s Museum” (2010) MOCA, Los Angeles; “The Smithson Effect” (2011), Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; “Natural History” (2012) Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Maier-Aichen lives and works in Cologne, Germany and Los Angeles, California.
© Florian Maier-Aichen, 100-Mile photograph, 2014
© Installation view at 303 Gallery, 2014
303 Gallery represents the work of Doug Aitken, Valentin Carron, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Ceal Floyer, Karel Funk, Maureen Gallace, Tim Gardner, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Kim Gordon, Rodney Graham, Mary Heilmann, Jeppe Hein, Jens Hoffmann, Larry Johnson, Matt Johnson, Jacob Kassay, Karen Kilimnik, Alicja Kwade, Elad Lassry, Florian Maier-Aichen, Nick Mauss, Mike Nelson, Kristin Oppenheim, Eva Rothschild, Collier Schorr, Stephen Shore, Sue Williams, Jane and Louise Wilson.
© 303 Gallery
BY NATALYA REZNIK, KSENIA BELASH
A report about photographical course by Natalya Reznik in Fotodepartament (Saint-Petersburg, Russia)
The theme of the course
I decided to teach the course «Photography and Time» in Fotodepartament Foundation, because it is connected with the topic of my theoretical research. I work on the PhD thesis with a title «Aging in photography — forms of representation». I have also been exploring such themes as time, aging, disappearance of image, memory etc for a very long time in my own photo projects.
I asked my students to investigate why a question of time is so important for photography. It seems like photography could be measured in time units. How many second’s fractions could be «caught» by a photographer and saved from the disappearance and dissolution into the Nowhere? A photographer collects fragments of reality like Noah in his ark, saving them from disappearance in the Flood of Time. After all, time is always about dynamics and photography is always about statics, about «saving» something very vulnerable which is going to be changed in the next second and will never be the same.
© Natalya Reznik, ‘Looking for my Father’
Nowadays the philosophy of «the decisive moment» gives way not only to «the indecisive moment», but to something that happened in-between of two shutter-releases. It won’t be surprising if the very important and valuable, something that can not be gazed at, hidden in a photo album and taken to the future does indeed happen there.
The topic «Photography and Time» was open for the interpretation by students in their own projects: it could be maturing and aging, time which is created by a sequence of photographs, time on photos and time in-between them, interaction of past and future in photography etc.
The teaching experience
My students and me met once a week online during an academic year (10.2013- 06.2014) and talked for three hours and more. We used Skype for talking and chatting and Ustream for the video translation of my talk. It was quite hard time, especially, at the beginning, because I had almost no experience of teaching online at that moment. The situation turned out to be very different in comparison with the usual offline teaching. Most of the time I do not see my students, sometimes I even don’t hear them properly because of problems with their microphones. When you teach online, sometimes you have a feeling that one of your sense organ is suddenly broken. You cannot feel the atmosphere of the talk nor can you follow the mood and reactions of your listeners — you need to smile to your computer and talk to him as if it is your friend. It is quite unusual and tricky experience and, moreover, you lose a lot of energy. Of course, I would prefer to teach a normal offline course, but if students are located in so many different places (London, Malta, Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Perm, Minsk etc), it is the only way to bring them all together. Also we had an opportunity to invite to our webinars photographical experts from other countries and to discuss with them students’ portfolios (among our guests was Steve Bisson, the editor of Urbanautica).
© Natalya Reznik, from ‘A Stolen Archive of Otto Steiner’. Exhibition Hourra, L’Oural! National Centre of contemporary arts (Ural Branch), Yekaterinburg. Photo by Alexey Ponomarchuk
During the course we explored the topic «Time» from very different points of view, tried to define and visualize «qualities» of time and to find the same qualities in photography as a medium. Students made presentations, wrote texts, read number of related books and articles and made a lot of practical assignments which are connected in some way with the topic «Time». The most successful realization of the assignments by each student was extended to a final project by the end the class.
A former student of the course «Photography and Time», Ksenia Belash, who is not only a photographer, but a writer and researcher of photography as well, analyses her mates’ final projects:
Alexander Agafonov. «Don’t blink!»
Time and memory are two main themes that underpin Alexander Agafonov’s work. In his latest project the artist turns his attention to the notion of nostalgia and explores photography’s intrinsic capacity to trigger involuntary memories in the viewer. The resulting work takes a form of an installation which includes a number of mounted photographs, as well as several teddy bears - reminiscent of popular Soviet toys - whose glittering eyes are immediately noticeable in the purposely dim light of the exposition room. The toys become the focal point of the arrangement: their heads turn out to contain intricate stereoscope devices through which the hidden photographs can be viewed in 3D.
© Alexander Agafonov
The images presented on the wall and the ones concealed within the bears are closely related: both are photographs (either found or taken from the artist’s personal archive) depicting children. However, while the mounted pictures are simple, straight-on and, more importantly, highly formal portraits, the stereoscope ones are just the opposite: they are candid, spontaneous, fragmentary, ambiguous, ephemeral, distant - and yet also uncannily familiar.
© Alexander Agafanov
The notion of engaging with the ambivalent, “not for show” and easily forgotten or repressed past is at the heart of Agafonov’s project. However, by juxtaposing the everyday imagery with the “official”, ideologically shaped representations of childhood he goes further than simply exposing the constructedness of a typical Soviet child picture. The artist looks for the points of connection between different layers of memory - conscious and subconscious, constructed and immediate, individual and collective. The bear, being a personal, nostalgically charged object from the past and at the same time a very common, easily recognisable cultural attribute of a Soviet childhood, becomes an embodied metaphor of such a point.
Tatiana Galtseva. «Forest»
Tatiana Galtseva’s project also deals with childhood reminiscences, however, in a strikingly different way. Her work, while visually indebted to surrealism, taps into a recent trend of creating stories where fact and fiction become intermingled to the point that they become virtually indistinguishable. Here such an interconnectedness is particularly justified, as the underlying narrative is centered around the notion of false and constructed memories. The act of interweaving fantastical, sinister elements into what could be otherwise described as “normal”, possibly plain pictures, is quite literal — the use of collage reveals the made-up nature of the photographic composites. However, alongside the eerie collages, the project, still largely in progress, is also going to include a fair bit of archival materials and photographs!
© Tatiana Galtseva
The story takes place in the allegorical “deep dark wood” - a primal, archetypal place which is a typical fairytale setting and also a well-known metaphor for subconscious. We cannot access any direct information about the events that may or may not have happened in that wood - all specific details have been carefully hidden, or rather replaced with symbols and signs that are left to the viewer’s interpretation. The central character (whose past and memories are being questioned) is also only to be guessed - his face remains obscure, most often concealed behind a collaged animal mask- which creates an uncanny and troubling effect. This is hardly surprising, because the project has been initially inspired by crime detection documentaries, a genre which has proved very popular in post-Soviet Russia. This brings an unexpected social, if not historical dimension to the narrative.
© Tatiana Galtseva
The project is yet to be finalized, but it certainly has a potential not only to entertain the viewer, but also to reveal something quite interesting about the myths that permeate today’s collective unconscious.
Lita Poliakova. «Landscape»
Lita Poliakova’s work defies an easy definition - she is one of those artists who tend to favor fluidity and ambiguity over fixed meanings or precise labels. Her latest project is a series of quasi- abstract, bizarrely shaped compositions which the artist refers to as “landscapes”. In fact, the “landscapes” turn out to be collages assembled from the pieces of torn up fashion magazine pages. Although it is impossible to recognize the original images, one quickly realizes that the fragments have been taken from ads or fashion shots depicting idealized female bodies.
© Lita Poliakova
Although the body/landscape connection has been quite a popular subject in visual arts, especially in photography, Poliakova is not looking for obvious parallels or graphic affinities. Instead, the point of connection between the two concepts lies in the fact that both of them are social constructs, shaped by the culture largely dominated by the idea of an unreachable perfection. In contemporary society the polished, photoshopped body has become a kind of an “idyll” - something to admire and to aspire to.
© Lita Poliakova
Given the theme, one could be easily mistaken in interpreting the artist’s gesture of deconstructing and mutilating the “idealized” body images as an act of feminist protest. However, Poliakova’s main concern is not the objectification of the female body as such, but the conflict between the “artificial” and the “pure”, or rather the disappearance of the latter. By adopting a playful, intuitive approach she literally points out the constructed nature of the image and creates her own subjective version of “picturesque” - rough, enigmatic and intimate.
© Natalya Reznik | FotoDepartment
THE CHINESE ‘DUST BOWL’
One of the greatest environmental disasters of our time: The Chinese ‘Dust Bowl’ is probably the largest conversion of productive land into sand anywhere in the world. Deserts cover 18% of China today. Of those, 78% are natural, while humans created 22%.
© Benoit Aquin
With unsustainable practices, to date, Chinese farmers and herders have transformed about 400,000 square kilometres of cropland and verdant prairie into new desert. The shepherds have overgrazed the steppes, allowing their sheep and goats to chew the grass all the way down to its roots. The farmers, for their part, have over-exploited the arable land by opening fragile grasslands to cultivation and over pumping rivers and aquifers in the oases bordering the ancient deserts. As the deep aquifer under the North China Plain is depleted, the region is losing its last water reserve, its only safety cushion, stretching the capacity of the Yellow River.
© Benoit Aquin
The soil, once it is barren, is swept up by the wind into dust storms, battering the capital, Beijing, and then moving on to Korea and Japan. The most massive of the yellow clouds of dust make their way across the Pacific and reach North America. The loss of precious topsoil for Chinese agriculture ends up polluting both China’s cities and countries halfway around the world. The area of the desert thus created is equivalent to more than half the farmland in Canada.
© Benoit Aquin
Three hundred million people are affected by dust storms in China. One hundred and eighty million people depend on the Yellow River. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been relocated and cities with ecological refugees have been created. The Chinese ‘Dust Bowl’ is a fascinating subject. It is a compelling environmental manmade disaster and photographically an interesting journey. When I embarked on this trip I was convinced that I could make surreal images and at the same time raise awareness. This is about scarce water resources, desertification and ecological refugees in China.
© Benoit Aquin
Benoit Aquin was born in 1963 in Montreal, and studied at the New England School of Photography in Boston until 1987. He currently lives and works in Montreal. Aquin’s new photojournalistic and documentary projects, since 2002, are an examination of large-scale enviromental issues and their impact on humanity. They demonstrate his artistic and humanistic commitment. He says, “I believe photography is peeking at the essence of things, and I feel greatly rewarded when I think people have been inspired by my work, because it is like planting seeds.”
© Benoit Aquin
The Chinese « Dust Bowl » , published in Foto8, and Time.com (2008)
The Chinese « Dust Bowl » , published in a book titled Inside China from National Geographic Society, The Walrus and Courrier Japon. (2007)
The Northwest Passage published in the Guardian, Time Magazine, Vanity Fair Italy, Le Monde2, Canadian Geographic,
A Portrait Of Sheila Watt-Cloutier (Canadian environmentalist) with Marianne Pearl for Glamour Magazine.
© Benoit Aquin
BY THE SILENT LINE
As an odd reminiscence, all across Europe stand vestiges of its Industrial Revolution. During the 18th century, as the population kept on increasing, new techniques were developed to produce more, faster and at a lower cost. This wave of radical changes culminated in the development of the railways, which gave a strong impulse to the entire economy.
© Pierre Folk
One of greatest vestiges – however unknown – of the Industrial Revolution lies in Paris. A 32km path surrounding the city, la Petite Ceinture is a derelict railroad track. Since its access has been closed Parisians have been unable to visit its trenches. The rails cross the entire city in anonymity, belonging to a forgotten past.
© Pierre Folk
Yet, la Petite Ceinture had its time of glory. In early 19th Century France, the various Parisian railway networks were not connected, and transfers were horse-drawn as the City of Light didn’t have large boulevards yet. The project became a necessity to facilitate the circulation of both goods and people. Its construction, seen as an invitation to progress, started in 1852. Traffic was already considerable during the very first years, and reached its apogee with the Universal Exhibition featuring the Eiffel Tower in 1901. However, its operation wouldn’t survive the automobile revolution, nor the advent of the underground system.
© Pierre Folk
On most of its course, la Petite Ceinture has produced nothing but silence since the 30’s. Oddly enough, it hasn’t gone to wrack and ruin. As a river, its shores constantly change over time, but it persists. Grasses, flowers and small trees sprout from its bed. The vestige has become a boundary on the fringe of society. An intimate place, where past and modernity make their acquaintance.
© Pierre Folk
At last, la Petite Ceinture is being likely to be reclaimed by modern society. A handful of lagging projects envisage partial conversion into public transportation or linear parks, just like la promenade plantée de Bastille in 1988, which partly inspired New York’s High Line redesign. It is time for farewell.
This work, started in 2011, is a way of maintaining the memory of a landmark and its rebirth. Somehow, these are photographs that can never be taken again.
© Pierre Folk
Photo: William Eggleston “Tanglewood Numbers (pundits in the liquor light…)”
Silver Jews “Tanglewood Numbers” 2005 Drag City
David Berman belongs to a rare genius that now seems in danger of extinction… dark and poetic, personal and magnetic. Like him, in those years, only Lou Barlow, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Stephen Malkmus, Calvin Johnson. Irregular slackers geniuses, with a creative nature, emotionally unstable and greatly talented. In this album the Silver Jews return, in their own way, their best indie rock songs, accelerated and distorted, which are alternate to American folk ballads, sweet and chipped, accompanied by banjo and violin. The formation of this fifth album includes David Berman and among others Steve Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich, Brian Kotzur, Mike Fellows, Azita Youssefi, Will Oldham. A great number of musicians capable of creating a full and choral sound. The words of David Berman clarify the reason for the choice of the image “it’s warm inside these photos”. The photo of 1971 is made by William Eggleston (also a pianist and organist), and published in the series Los Alamos. The image represents the busts of J.F.K., M.L.K., and R.F.K. between alcohol bottles and various ornaments. The author is well aware of how light and color contain a special musicality, descriptive and joyful, and how much attention is ‘democratically’ placed on the details and the little things. A faceted observation point to give order to the chaos of everyday life and find the multiple red lines that connect things.
© Video Silver Jews “Punks In The Beerlight”
"Punks In The Beerlight"
Where’s the paper bag that holds the liquor?
Just in case I feel the need to puke.
If we’d known what it’d take to get here,
Would we have chosen to?
Would we have chosen to?
So you wanna build an altar on a summer night?
You wanna smoke the gel off a fentanyl patch.
Ain’tcha heard the news? Adam and Eve were Jews.
And I always loved you to the max.
I loved you to the max
I loved you to the max
I loved you to the max
If it gets really really bad,
If it ever gets really really bad,
Let’s not kid ourselves.
It gets really really bad.
Punks in the beerlight
Burnouts in love.
Punks in the beerlight
Punks in the beerlight
Two burnouts in love.
I’d always loved you to the max
I loved you to the max
I loved you to the max
© Video Silver Jews “I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You”
© Video Silver Jews “Sleeping Is The Only Love”
© Video documentary of William Eggleston, filmed director Reiner Holzemer
PAST ISSUES OF UNDERCOVER HERE!
Text by Gianpaolo Arena
© Silver Jews | All copyright remains with the photographer and property
CURVES OF MOON AND RIVERS OF BLUE
A solo exhibition of photographs by Nadav Kander.
Curated by Tamar Arnon & Eli Zagury
«The first solo exhibition of British photographer Nadav Kander in Hong Kong presents two of his most accomplished series to date. On first impressions the two series in this show appear very different yet in fact their essence is the same. Kander explores the narrative of the vulnerability of mankind and asks the same question in both series; ’What it is to be alone in the world?’ Alone, in the vast and rapidly transforming China, or naked and alone within our own bodies.
© Nadav Kander, Three Gorges Dam II, Yichang, Hubei Province
There is a tension felt across the works in this show. Whether the people in Kander’s photographs appear small against vast cityscapes and landscapes or life size in studio shots surrounded by darkness, they all project the same isolation. Kander’s seductive nude series of large-scale painterly photographs creates an uneasy tension between intimacy and objectification, as each of his artist’s models are unforgettably captured in a repertoire of gestures, postures, and movements which evoke an internal disquiet. In the Yangtze, The Long River series, the tension is palpable as we view these powerful photographs of people negotiating existence, identity and belonging as a result of living with rapid dramatic change that has reshaped their country.
© Blindspot Gallery Installation
Both series also question what we perceive as beauty in today’s world. Our notion of beauty, in nature and the environment around us, or as it can be perceived by us when viewing the naked human body, is being challenged by Kander. This show seeks to affirm there is no universal perception and we must question common ideas not only of beauty but also of humanity.» [Tamar Arnon & Eli Zagury, February 2014.]
© Nadav Kander, Qinghai Province II, 2007
«Although it was never my intention to make documentary pictures, the sociological context of this project is ever present and unavoidable. The displacement of 1.7 million people in a 600-kilometre (380-mile) stretch of the river and the effect on humans when a country moves towards the future at unprecedented speed are themes that inevitably figure within the work. China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past. Demolition and construction were everywhere on such a scale that I was unsure if what I was seeing was being built or destroyed, destroyed or built.
I felt strong parallels with the twentieth-century immigrants, who poured off the boats onto American soil for a new beginning without roots. And yet, paradoxically, the Chinese have traditionally had a deep identification with their native soil and an attachment to place. How can one be so rooted to the land and yet so ruthlessly redevelop or reinvent it?
China’s progress is rapid and profound. These are photographs that can never be taken again.» [Nadav Kander, from Artist Statement - Yangtze, The Long River ]
© Blindspot Gallery Installation
«Revealed yet concealed. Shameless yet shameful. Ease with unease. Beauty and destruction. These paradoxes are displayed in all my work; an enquiry into what it feels like to be human.
These naked pictures are the latest, and perhaps strongest, distillation of the themes that continue to fascinate and nourish me. My subject matters are varied, but the essence is the same. Whether photographing on the banks of the Yangtze, or in my studio, I work with the human conditions that link us all; the vulnerability of mankind. What it is to be alone in the world. What it is to be human.
© Nadav Kander, Elizabeth sitting, 2012, 2012
Popular imagery airbrushes the shadow from our lives, but of course there is no health without illness, no life without death, and no beauty without imperfection. Wherever I may be, my pictures seek to expose the shadow and vulnerability that exists in all of us, and it is this vulnerability that I find so beautiful.» [Nadav Kander, from Artist Statement - Bodies. 6 Women, 1 Man]
© Blindspot Gallery | Nadav Kander
DAYS OF MELANCHOLY
This series of portraits is focused on the life of gay people in Russia. It is a visual tale of melancholy, loneliness and uncertainty about the future.
When you say to heterosexuals “you are not my sort of guy,” they are surprised.
In Russia the level of intolerance toward homosexuality has been rising sharply. A 2013 survey found that 74% of Russians said homosexuality should not be accepted by society. 16% of Russians surveyed said that gay people should be isolated from society, 22% said they should be forced to undergo treatment, and 5% said homosexuals should be “liquidated”. In June 2013 the national parliament unanimously adopted a nationwide law banning “propaganda” - the promotion of homosexuality to minors. Under the statute it is effectively illegal to hold any gay pride events, speak in defense of gay rights, or say that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships.
My mother’s reaction was “it’s a teenage thing, you’ll grow out of it, you simply haven’t met the right girl yet”. The most ridiculous thing is that I was already 26.
This reality has driven the gay community underground, to the shadows. In Russia only 1% of the gay population dares to live openly. That is why the general mood in my work is dark and melancholic. The visual concept mirrors the idea that being gay in Russia is not a rainbow colored life. In our country rainbows have some very somber shades.
I haven’t communicated with my mother for about 3 years. The reason is her homophobia. She said that people like me have to be killed, burned, castrated. It shook everything I knew about her and ever felt for her. It is strange that I was brought up by a person like her. How could I even have been born by her?
I chose to take poetic, intimate portraits depicting an internal beauty of the characters. So let us take just a few minutes to recognize each other’s beauty instead of attacking each other for our differences.
© Tatiana Vinogradova
We are pleased to introduce ‘Chapieux, Geography of a Secret’ the last monograph by French photographer Celine Clanet. A result of a 2-years assignment in the remote Chapieux Valley, French Alps.
«Located on the steep south face of Mont Blanc (French side), the Chapieux valley is a high altitude site, inaccessible in winter due to avalanches threat. Whereas for centuries, only mountain farmers and soldiers ventured there - the first to produce their cheeses, the latter to fight in a famous border zone with Italy - from the end of the nineteenth century this remote region started to be popularized by the pioneers of mountaineering.
Mandated by the Facim Foundation, photographer Céline Clanet followed all the ones destined for these altitudes: farmers and their animals; hunters stalking mountain game; climbers and skiers looking for the dazzling heights. Through images and texts is outlined the portrait of one of those places that isolation and uncompromising beauty place at the forefront of human fantasies.» [Monograph introduction, published by Actes Sud]
«The mountain provides an ambivalent feeling: that of constantly meeting it for the first time, and that of having known it strangely from time immemorial. Seasons, sky, and every hour of the day, continually shape a different surface. Similarly, each meter walked makes it new, revealing a peculiar angle.
The mountain is a visual paradox, a multiplicity of fleeting appearances, embodied in a complete and silent immobility.
The Chapieux valley plays with this ambiguity.
It happens to be the theatre stage of a wild ballet, danced by passing men. Those who inhabit it, exploit it, shape it with their harrows and their animals, and those who skim the tops or trails for a few hours. These populations, which coexist but never meet, will always be passing: they draw lines, follow trails or tan mountainsides’ skin. The set, out of the mists of time, this “primal Creation ossuary” as Alexandre Dumas once wrote, will stay there, unchanging.
At the end of autumn, the Chapieux valley empties out. Unable to stay there due to recurrent avalanches, the residents and their herds settle down to a lower place, for a few months. Climbers then venture there very rarely, chosing safer routes. Winter covers everything. The valley becomes prohibited, and gets a moment of freedom, wild and intimate. A seasonal modesty.
I imagine a silence raising from the low pastures, up to the Aiguille des Glaciers, bow of the valley. I imagine all the pictures I could not make, the snowy routes I could not take; the secret light that surely caresses the Seigne mountainsides, and the deafening echo of heavy snowslides. I imagine the vibrant darkness of night, this impossible high mountains blackness, when mineral world is covered with deaf whiteness, reflecting a clear sky. The forbidden show of a winter landscape that I believe to be flamboyant, and that I will not get a sight of. [Céline Clanet]
© Céline Clanet
BY BRIAN ROSA AND ADAM RYDER
These photos were created while we were artists-in-residence at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah during the summer of 2010. In this gallery we present a collection of nighttime photographs of Wendover that record our investigations of the area. We explored the interstitial, unoccupied spaces at the edges of the interstate, among the ruins of the military base, and between nightlife zones and the casino workers’ tract housing. We set out to document the ambient light emitting from commercial, municipal and residential light sources in an attempt to find a mythical ‘edge of light’ in the high desert.
Two thousand miles west of New York City, Interstate 80 crosses the final hurdle of the Rocky Mountains, the Wasatch Range, and drops down onto the Great Basin that covers much of the interior West. On the last day of a week-long road trip, we passed Salt Lake City and drove two more hours across the Bonneville Salt Flats, a startlingly white and largely featureless expanse — a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville — eerily geometrical in its flatness. Signs on the shoulder warned us not to fall asleep at the wheel. We were on our way to Wendover, Utah, to participate in the artist-in-residence program at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, which maintains an outpost in this isolated but historically important pocket of the West.
Bifurcated by the state line, Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada, form a community that straddles the border of nowhere and nowhere. Established in 1906 as a maintenance stop on the Western Pacific Railroad, early Wendover was home to a small population of rail workers and miners. A couple of decades later, William Smith, proprietor of a service station — then Wendover’s sole business — literally hit the jackpot when Nevada legalized gambling in 1931. Smith converted his shop, which was right on the state line, into the Stateline Casino, today the Wendover Nugget. The Nugget was soon joined by four other casinos on the Nevada side, which collectively form the area’s economic backbone. West Wendover is comparatively populous and financially prosperous, with suburban-style tract housing, a golf course and a shopping center. Cross into Utah, though, and Wendover is economically restricted by the state’s gambling and alcohol laws; the town has little business of its own. Residents, mostly Latinos, commute across the border to work in the casinos.
Prosperity here was not always so uneven. During World War II, Wendover, Utah, was host to the largest bombing range in the country, training bomber crews across the vast desert. It was from the Wendover Army Air Field that Col. Paul Tibbetts took off in the Enola Gay, bound for Guam and then Hiroshima. The war effort boosted the town of 200 people into a small city, with its own hospital, library, interfaith chapel, bowling alley and multiple movie theaters. At its height Wendover housed 23,000 military personnel in 668 buildings. After Japan’s surrender, the air field became obsolete and fell into disrepair. The Air Force departed for good in the ‘60s and ceded the derelict property to the city. Today only two dozen of the military buildings remain.
The unique topography of the region, which lies at the foot of the Toana mountain range and the Leppy Hills, offers the opportunity for unexpectedly dynamic vistas. Trudging up to the promontories that loom over town, we had oblique views of the city, of the perfectly straight and flat stretch of Interstate 80 through the salt flats and of the monolithic communication arrays. From this vantage on a clear day, we found ourselves at one of the few points where the earth’s curvature can be seen on the horizon with the naked eye. At night, while the Utah side was nearly lightless, the casinos and hotels and parking lots on the Nevada side glowed bright as day, projecting a harsh screen of light on newly built tract housing, piles of concrete rubble from building demolitions and the mountains beyond.
© Site Unseen Projects