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Ed Quillen | May 11, 2009 04:42 PM

    When we look out our windows, do we always see the real West out there, or do we often perceive what photographers have taught us to to see?
 
    The question comes up with an exhibit of 120 photographs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Called "Into the Sunset, Photography's Image of the American West," it runs through June 8.
 
    According to MoMA's  website, the photos "illustrate photography's role in popularizing ideas of the sublime landscape, Manifest Destiny, and the 'land of opportunity,' as well as describing a more complex vision of the West, one that addresses cultural dislocation, environmental devastation, and failed social aspiration."
 
    Not that I'm likely to see the exhibit, but you see a dozen of the photos, along with some thought-provoking commentary by Sara Boxer, at  Slate, an on-line magazine.
 
    It's well worth an on-line visit where you'll learn that "You may be the victim of a great Western fantasy," since photography "has done more than anything to construct our vision of the West."
 
    My own attitude about photography and the West developed when I was reviewing a book of gorgeous mountain landscape photos, and it struck me that these were to the real mountains as Playmate photos were to real women. Real women have stretch marks and moles; Playmates don't. Real mountains have road cuts and power lines and mine dumps; Coffee-Table Book Mountains don't.
 
    In both cases, a photographer seems to be promoting a fantasy, and perhaps it has ever been so in the West.
 

'Real Mountains'??
Sinjin Eberle
Sinjin Eberle
May 12, 2009 07:05 AM
Ed's comment 'Real mountains have road cuts and power lines and mine dumps; Coffee-Table Book Mountains don't' is irksome...that statement seems to simply imply that it's ok and historically acceptable that man's haphazard approach to exploration and alteration of the natural world has left acceptable marks on the natural condition of things. Yeah, we have lots of impacts, but are there really so few places that we don't put our mark on, that it becomes acceptable to do as such? I would bring up the cliffs area in Salida that Ed has written about previously - an 'off the beaten path' place that has now been invaded by ATVs, and is becoming more and more torn to shreds as more of these motorheads have discovered it...that area could have been (and may have been previously, I don't know) the subject of a coffee table book, since it is a unique feature for that part of the state - now its just another torn up pile of rocks, not worthy of the honor of being in a book of mountain playmates...its worthy of being in the book Thrillcraft, which is a coffee table book of formerly beautiful places that have been trashed by the motor culture.

The west was, not that long ago, a place of untrammeled beauty and expanse, but it is now increasingly violated with the criss-cross of roads, air pollution, and spoiled streams. Those books of model mountains remind me to tread lightly and explore with a light touch as many of these places as we have left, before they ARE marked up by man's disrespectful ways.
Weird that you run the ranchers off their lands and now it all goes to pot IYO
Robert Palmer Rhoads
Robert Palmer Rhoads
May 12, 2009 07:36 PM
Posted by Sinjin Eberle at May 12, 2009 06:05 AM

................
........................
"The west was, not that long ago, a place of untrammeled beauty and expanse, but it is now increasingly violated with the criss-cross of roads, air pollution, and spoiled streams. Those books of model mountains remind me to tread lightly and explore with a light touch as many of these places as we have left, before they ARE marked up by man's disrespectful ways."

Maybe you enviros should have not ran the good ranchers off with frivolous lawsuits etc...........
You might still have more pristine land today and not pissin and moaning?

PS: I know it hurts to have the beauty of the west displayed in NYC when for years you have spoken what a broke down piece of doo-doo it is. When in essence there are millions and millions acres of pristine lands still out here in OUR west....
Ranchlands as Pristine? Think again...
Sinjin Eberle
Sinjin Eberle
May 14, 2009 08:03 AM
Ranchlands? Pristine? Hardly...try invasive species, monoculture, many (not all) ranchers who perceive their leases on public lands to be 'their' lands and locking all others out, species destruction to protect their helpless precious imported herds (ever heard of a wolf?)...

Sorry, Robert - running cows all over the west is hardly keeping it pristine...are ranches better than condos? Absolutely, but lets call a spade a spade here...
Rangelands and the West
Fred Rasmussen
Fred Rasmussen
May 15, 2009 10:58 AM
Sinjin is right on. Now, normal in the non-irrigated west is driving hundreds if not thousands of miles,any direction,and the only plants taller than 5 inches are inedible or spiny. The highway verges are more often more natural looking even if they are populated by hostile invaders.

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