Western Imagery


    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.