a “response to the American dream gone haywire.”
August 26, 2019 12:18 PM   Subscribe

The California Photograph "Recently I have become interested in a different kind of California Photograph, which is a genre devoted to the landscape decimated and plundered and improved upon to the point of desecration."
posted by mecran01 (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
David Maisel's Lake Project is very much in that category. See also: any photo of the Salton Sea.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

That was a...bothersome...piece. I got the concept but it was rather poorly cited and off-base. Part of Watkin's California, contemporary with the lede photo, was Malakoff Diggins, right up the road from Coloma where gold was found in California (there not being a place called "Sutter's Mill", rather a thing). They too were marking man's path on the land and not always great. That juxtaposition was part of it even then.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

Look, I just want to say: If you think windmills are a complete desecration of the land, you're not helping, when it's needed most.

(that is all)
posted by humboldt32 at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2019 [30 favorites]

Meanwhile, slightly to the north. The world is on fire and no one is paying attention.
posted by turtlebackriding at 12:56 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recommend the Centre For Land Use Interpretation for this kind of thing. The bookshop in the space in Culver City has some really great reference, their projects and exhibitions are always interesting, and if you can get on one of their field trips by coach, they are fantastic. They sell out fast but if you are in the LA Area it's worth asking to be on a cancellation list and then just being there when the bus leaves. I got to do their tour of experimental air craft crash sites this way, and it was fascinating.
posted by tardigrade at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2019 [9 favorites]

Look, I just want to say: If you think windmills are a complete desecration of the land, you're not helping, when it's needed most.
I'm not sure why they included that photo, beyond the fact that is within the state of California, I guess. He actually has others which better highlight the level of decay he's going for. And others that are just pictures of dams and public electric infrastructure.

It almost seems like he merged two groups of photos, one that is as out of the touch from the point as the fashion photographer from the post the other day was and one that actually hits his point pretty well.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:10 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought the point made with that photo was the golf course, not the windmills.
posted by biogeo at 3:02 PM on August 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Meanwhile, far too many of us non-native Hawaiʻi residents seem to have a serious problem comprehending the word "sacred"; specifically, the sacredness to native Hawaiians of Mauna Kea, which, despite a continuous but small number of native objectors, has been systematically desecrated (=rendered un-sacred) by a series of 13 telescopes over the last half-century. The admirable astronomy these devices have wrought has so far tended to mute this opposition, but now, the proposed building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has become the proverbial bridge too far. The opposition is fierce in its steadfastness and amazing in its organizational unity. Surprisingly for them, it is gaining a growing worldwide support.

Up to and including now, most Hawaiʻi residents still feel the science is worth the further pollution of Mauna Kea. But I for one fail to see any actual benefit to our worldʻs existential climate crisis that the kind of research the TMT will do. Itʻs being billed romantically as a more promising search for extraterrestrial life, or more soberly as the pure science of furthering understanding the nature of the very early universe. But iʻm convinced for my grandchildrenʻs sake that it really is time for all of us to focus back on Earth, and to take seriously the sacredness understood by indigenous cultures, not only of this mountain, but of all places so considered. Take for an obvious example the sacredness to indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest. It is a question of human survival, without which there can be no science.

I can put myself on an oceangoing Polynesian canoe, cast away from a South Pacific island perhaps by defeat in war, carrying the basic necessities for survival on some undiscovered island. I can know by wave patterns that there may be such an island somewhere to the north. During the night, the red glow of a far off erupting Mauna Loa on the clouds would be an obvious, if diffuse, clue to such desperate voyagers. In daytime the shine of sunlit snow on top of Mauna Kea would be a sharp beacon assuring survival. What then could be more sacred?

BTW, the proposed TMT would be a structure some 18 stories high, with a footprint the size of Yankee Stadium. it would be by far the largest structure on Hawaiʻi Island. The scientists themselves measure its shelf life in decades only.
posted by Droll Lord at 3:08 PM on August 26, 2019 [11 favorites]

No mention of Ansel Adams' amazing photography of downtown Los Angeles or the Camp Manzanar Japanese Internment Camp. Disappointing commentary.
posted by The World Famous at 3:21 PM on August 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

"If you think windmills are a complete desecration of the land..."

After 150 years of this [images of california mining], golf and windmills are a problem? We built our lives on a growth economy built on extraction. Yeah it was hidden away (like clear-cutting and leaving a curtain of trees along the highways). But we knew it.

We will re-form. One way or another. Please! choose wisely.
posted by Twang at 5:13 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not entirely sold on the premise. Very little in California has been natural - if natural means "not dramatically altered by humans" - for thousands of years. The fire may be the only truly natural thing in these photos. (Though, it's burning imported grasses, and it wouldn't be the same if we didn't put out smaller fires. . . so perhaps not.)

But, as someone who has always been unreasonably annoyed by Didion, I really enjoyed the Harrison article. And some of the Epstein photos are great. Thanks!
posted by eotvos at 5:34 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

But I for one fail to see any actual benefit to our worldʻs existential climate crisis that the kind of research the TMT will do.

I'm not going to specifically weigh in on the use of the summit of Mauna Kea for astronomy, but that line right there? That's BS and you know it. It's the same kind of thinking that pits one type of science against another, why go to space when we got problems here? is just another variation. And I say this type of rhetorical trick is a cheat, when the fraction of money spent on science isn't even a rounding error compared to entertainment, pet toys, and the military. So whatever your stance is on Mauna Kea, cut it with the why bother doing THIS science when the world is burning? spiel.
posted by tclark at 5:52 PM on August 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

I am unreasonably delighted that I had the opposite reaction to eotvos -- I was all-in until he got shirty about Didion, who I adore, and who has shaped the myth of California in my brain. And then the article just...stopped? Meh. There's something here, but this article ain't it.
posted by kalimac at 6:26 PM on August 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

To Mr Clark - yes, the extinction of mankind is a bit of a problem. Maybe the TMT can find some aliens who can help us out.
posted by Droll Lord at 7:47 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

The critique of Didion linked in the article is by Barbara Grizzutti Harrison. Not a he.
posted by goofyfoot at 9:19 PM on August 26, 2019

I thought the point made with that photo was the golf course, not the windmills.

That's not lost on me. My point is the windmills are clearly the focus of the image and the golf is clearly incidental. The same point could have been made about golf courses without the "oh hey, windmills too..."
posted by humboldt32 at 1:20 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

If a person is unable to see how unlocking the mysteries of the universe might step back a bit and realize that they are only able to communicate their thoughts in the manner they are due to technology that would not have been possible without the basic research that telescopes play an important role in advancing and testing.

There is nothing wrong with saying "not here, this particular place has a meaning that will be erased by its presence." (though that ship sailed long ago for Mauna Kea) It's an entirely different thing to say that it or anything like it shouldn't be built at all. Past precedent proves that manner of thinking to be a poor choice in the long term.
posted by wierdo at 2:09 AM on August 27, 2019

Neither the golf nor the windmills are incidental, the photo is composed around the layered juxtaposition of the elements. The artificiality is kinda the point, but contrasted to all the barren land surrounding the course and the windmills and the slightly overexposed light that permeates the scene. The dirt in front of the concrete path and the carts acts as the ground of the image that the dirt covered hills behind the green echo. It makes the green look more out of place, as if in a sea of dirt. The windmills echo the color of the golf carts on that ugly path way, as if to suggest they exist to balance out the golf course in a way. Which is pretty much is the case, they are the response to allowing the kind of artificiality like golf courses in places that shouldn't have them for needing extra resources to maintain.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:16 AM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

If people are interested in photos like these, they should really check out the New Topographics movement of the 70's. My all time favorite photography movement for sure.
posted by xammerboy at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have Farewell Promised Land which has some great photography of the California landscape. "Historical accounts of California tell of flocks of birds so dense in the sky that they cast a shadow on the ground, and of thunderous rivers of geese, ducks, and swans moving down the state to the lagoons of Mexico and beyond."
posted by marvin at 9:48 AM on August 27, 2019

To Weirdo -- actually, the alternate site for TMT, on the Canary Islands, would be welcomed there by both Canary Islanders and native Hawaiians, who, like me, are not against astronomical research. My own main point is to take sacredness seriously in any manifestation, as it can be intrinsically and instructively connected to survival of heretofore isolated populations, much as we all are now in fact an isolated population on island Earth.
posted by Droll Lord at 5:01 PM on August 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

A point that I wish the author had explored (but I’m not sure they even recognized) is how so often Northern California is portrayed as untamed beautiful wilderness ablaze with possibility while Southern California is portrayed as paradise despoiled and filled with smog, mudslides, and wildfires.

It’s telling to me that nearly all of the article’s pretty wilderness pictures and descriptions are of NorCal and few of the ugly ones are. Maybe it’s because I’m a SoCal native and tired of the SD wildfire pics and the Palm Springs golf course pics and the LA traffic pics and the smog in the Valley pics and so on and so forth. Be more original in your perceptions of California, society.
posted by librarylis at 7:00 PM on August 27, 2019

The golf course/windmill photo is Altamont Pass, which is in NorCal.
But yeah, I have mixed feelings about the fact that nobody ever seems to know about the incredible wilderness that's all over Southern California. On the one hand, hey, it's there and it's great! On the other hand, stay away and let me hike and camp and mountain bike away from crowds.
posted by The World Famous at 7:23 PM on August 27, 2019

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