This collection of photographs is not intended to be a grand apocalyptic statement. Instead, each image should be considered an end to a chapter in the long and winding story of our relationship with the land we share, and how we share it. Most endings are straightforward, but not always, so feel free to draw your own conclusions.
For those unfamiliar, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, was a 1975 exhibition that marked a dramatic turning point in landscape photography which is still enormously influential today. Many of the deadpan photos in the exhibition depicted human sprawl across the American West, and its effects as we pursued the dream.
As a lifelong resident of the American Midwest, this westbound wave of dreamers, trailblazers and industry has long since passed on to new frontiers. We now have bustling cities, vast farmland and ghosts... ghost towns, ghosts of industry and ghosts of families in their abandoned homes. For the past 10 years, I've crisscrossed many of the midwestern states for my day job. I've become used to the endless hours on the road and the same old fast food joints. One thing I haven't gotten used to are these ghosts, especially because they are everywhere lately.
Like the New Topographics photographers, I'm interested in man-altered landscapes because our footprint on Earth shouldn't be ignored. But in contrast, because of the spirit of the times in our country and much of the world, the footprints I'm finding are missing that touch of "westward ho!" optimism. In fact, we've seemed to run out of west. America's overflowing optimism must have flowed right out to the other side of the Pacific.
Whether or not the American ethos is in jeopardy, there's no arguing that more and more deserted places here are slipping into the past. This is the reason the photographs have a slightly aged look. They should give the sense of a recent memory, a reminder of places we've been but will soon forget. So please join me on an unconventional sightseeing journey around the heartland. I'm sure you will be disappointed.
the end Published June 18, 2011