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for people who care about the West

Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape


Preface by Wendell Berry

It is unfortunately supposable that some people will account for these photographic images as "abstract art," or will see them as "beautiful shapes." But anybody who troubles to identify in these pictures the things that are readily identifiable (trees, buildings, roads, vehicles, etc.) will see that nothing in them is abstract and that their common subject is a monstrous ugliness.

The power of these photographs is in their terrifying, because undeniable, particularity. They are representations of bad art - if by art we mean the ways and products of human work. If some of these results look abstract - unidentifiable, or unlike anything we have seen before - that is because nobody foresaw, because nobody cared, what they would look like. They are the inevitable consequences of our habit of working without imagination and without affection. They prove that our large-scale industrial projects are at once experimental, in the sense that we do not know what their consequences will be, and definitive because of the virtual permanence of these same consequences. And what we can see in these vandalized and perhaps irreparable landscapes we are obliged to understand as symbolic of what we cannot see: the steady seeping of poison into our world and our bodies.

David Hanson's art is here put forthrightly to the use of showing us what most of us, in fact, have not seen before, do not wish to see now, and yet must see if we are to save ourselves and our land from such work and such results. He has given us the topography of our open wounds.

Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape. Photographs by David T. Hanson, preface by Wendell Berry, Aperture Foundation Inc., 1997. $40, 160 pages, with color photographs and maps.