The word "beauty" does not normally come to mind at the mention of bomb testing, open-pit mining, chemical disposal, or the marks these activities have left on the Western landscape. But Changing the Earth, a book and traveling exhibit of Emmet Gowin’s aerial photographs, lends rich texture and a mysterious vitality to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the Nevada Test Site and other areas hard hit by industrial and military development.
bird’s-eye view, bomb disposal craters at the Umatilla Army
Depot in Hermiston, Ore., look like ancient fossils and mimic
furrows left on the land by the retreat of glaciers. Off-road
vehicle tracks in Utah look like the angry scribbles of a child
over a classmate’s rich collage. Circular wheat fields in
western Washington remind one of a palimpsest — the pivoting
irrigation marks overrun but do not conceal the land’s older
topography of pothole lakes and wetlands.
photos are testament to the geologic scale at which humans have
altered the landscape in just one century, and to the difficult
history the scars often represent. But the tension between
environmental destruction and the beauty alive in each of the
portraits conveys a melancholy hope for landscapes, and for our
place within them.
"Even when the landscape is greatly
disfigured or brutalized," writes Gowin, "it is always deeply
animated from within."
Changing the Earth, Jock Reynolds, with essays by Terry
Tempest Williams and Philip Brookman, Yale University Press, 2002.
128 pages. Hardcover: $45. The exhibit will travel through Salt
Lake City, Billings, El Paso and Seattle in 2003 and
Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth
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